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Lucchesi Field in Petaluma was 171 Degrees F

Why plastic grass is terrible for you and what you can do about it (come learn about natural field management September 27/28th!)

(but not plastic ones...)

Lucchesi Field is one of Petaluma's premier soccer fields and its turf is plastic. The weekend of July 15th 2023 was hot (95+ degrees Fahrenheit), but not surprisingly so. It is well known that plastic turf gets really hot, even hotter than pavement. That's why it's been banned in places like Boston, MA. Citizen scientists went to Lucchesi Field on July 15th to confirm what we already know: plastic grass creates dangerous environments for human health (not to mention ecosystems) in hot weather. Lucchesi Field measured 171 degrees F, which was 71 degrees F hotter than the adjacent natural grass and 26 degrees F hotter than the adjacent pavement. You'd burn your feet if you walked barefoot on this "grass".

Temperature readings were collected at a total of 3 Petaluma sites with professional temperature meters on July 13, 2023. The temperature readings on the plastic grass were: Lucchesi Field (171 degrees F), Casa Grande High School (163 degrees F), and East Washington Fields (162 degrees F).

Sample temperature reading adjacent to plastic grass

Additional temperature readings collected on Saturday, July 15th, 2023

This is particularly unfortunate given that any vegetation, including grass and especially trees naturally serve to cool adjacent temperatures in hot weather. Citizen scientists in El Granada California (San Mateo County) collected temperature readings using a professional temperature gauge on a 73 degree F day in May 2022. They compared temperature readings next to plants with the temperature of bare soil and pavement. The temperature in an area next to living plants was similar to the ambient air temperature. Surprisingly, the temperature of pavement and bare soil (no vegetation) was very similar (between 125-135 degrees F). The temperature of a field laid in plastic grass would have been even higher.

Sports teams often believe that they prefer plastic grass over natural turf because the playing conditions are generally less variable. In California we have issues like drought and gophers and most of our city and school landscape managers don't know how to properly manage natural turf (without spraying very toxic chemicals.) As a result, the natural grass fields at our public parks often look shabby and are not ideal for sports play.

It is understandable that sports players would want consistent and safe playing surfaces. However, it is clear that plastic grass is clearly not a good solution for playing fields in the age of climate change. In addition to creating hazardous temperature conditions that could easily lead to heat stroke, plastic grass contains dangerous "forever" chemicals (PFAS), still requires water and pesticide use to maintain, and is never able to be recycled (despite some industry claims). For more information on the environmental impacts of plastic grass, check out this recent Guardian article.

As a result of all of the above, through the efforts of local concerned citizens and a young articulate soccer player, the Petaluma Parks Commission voted not to recommend an additional plastic grass field for Lucchesi Park! This recommendation will now goes to the Petaluma City Council. In other local city and county parks, this issue is also "heating up". The City of Healdsburg, for example, is voting on whether to instal artificial turf at their largest park in the near future.

The good news is that is is very possible to maintain beautiful, lush, and consistent natural turf for sports playing in a reasonable and economic manner. The problem is that we don't currently have this expertise locally. This is why a local nonprofit organization, Non Toxic Schools, is sponsoring training for individuals and professions to bring this important skillset to our region. Properly managed organic turf is also more drought tolerant (needs less water), more resilient to pest infestations, and less expensive in the long-term than plastic grass.

Non Toxic Schools, is sponsoring a free community event (refreshments provided) in Novato, CA on the evening of Wednesday September 27th. The following day on Thursday September 28th the community is invited to a professional level hands-on technical workshop in Petaluma, CA for public and private landscape managers and anyone interested in learning how to improve their lawn (subsidized tuition, scholarships available, CE credits available). This is the first time this level of training has been available to land managers in our region. These events will bring the most up to date training and information to our local land managers and community at-large.

This training will be led by a national organic turf expert, Chip Osborne and Jay Feldman, Director of Beyond Pesticides.

At the September 27th community event, Mr. Osborne will explain how you can have beautiful lawns without toxic chemicals, plastic grass, or a big budget. Mr. Feldman will talk about available funding to help your community transition to organic turf and field care!

The full-day September 28th technical training will cover developing and maintaining healthy soil, choosing the right grass, best practices for irrigation/mowing/seeding/fertilization, following IPM with organic strategies for specific pest problems, and soil biology and testing. Continuing Education (CE) credits are available for professionals.

Free Community Presentation: Organic Management of Parks & Sports Fields

Wednesday September 27th, 2023, 6:00-8:00pm

Margaret Todd Senior Center Auditorium

1560 Hill Road

Novato, CA

*Join us for appetizers at 6:00pm, presentation begins at 6:30pm

Technical Training: Organic Field Management

Thursday September 28t, 8:30am-4:40pm

Petaluma Community Center

320 North McDowell Blvd

Petaluma, CA

This seminar is being offered at a subsidized rate of $40/pp. Scholarships are available.

*Lunch will be provided

Flyers for both events are below. Hope to see you and your favorite community landscape manager there!

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