Synthetic Turf Introduction

Artificial turf 1During the mid-1960’s researchers developed a product to replace natural turf, particularly in stadiums where growing conditions were unfavorable and maintaining natural turf was prohibitively expensive.  Originally used for playing fields and putting greens, synthetic turf (a.k.a. artificial turf or Astro-turf for the Houston Astro Dome where it was first installed) is beginning to find a niche in residential and small commercial landscapes. 

Designed to resemble natural turf lawns, synthetic turf requires far less care year round.  Other advantages include:

  • Watering is only required occasionally to wash off dirt and debris.
  • Eliminates the need for fertilizers and pesticides thereby reducing pollution from run-off.
  • Eliminates the need for mowing, which reduces noise and air pollution from gasoline engines.
  • Lower maintenance makes it ideal for homeowners who find it difficult to maintain natural turf.
  • Well-suited for medians and narrow areas that are difficult to irrigate efficiently; reduces run-off and damage to surrounding hardscapes.
  • May be eligible for rebates from some municipalities.

Despite the many improvements to artificial turf over the past 30 years there are some disadvantages to the product:

  • Health concerns due to exposure to various chemicals found in the tire crumbs used as a base for artificial turf such as cancer, allergies, thyroid and neurological effects, and respiratory irritation[1].
  • Environmental concerns due to leaching and off-gassing of chemical contaminants such as benzothiazole and n-hexadecane leaching metals such as zinc and lead. 
  • Increase in sprains and other injuries associated with artificial turf on playing fields.
  • Surface temperatures of synthetic turf are higher then natural turf.

It is unlikely that synthetic turf will completely replace natural turf. However, as improvements to synthetic turf eliminate or reduce some of the current concerns, bright green lawns year round may become a more common site.

Other Resources

CUWCC (2007) Potential Best Management Practices (PBMP) Report – Synthetic Turf 

[1] Artificial Turf. Exposure to Ground-Up Rubber Tires. Environment and Human Health, Inc. David R. Brown, Sc.D. Public Health Toxicologist. Accessed August 11, 2008.