One of the latest city-wide topics creating opinions on both sides of the issue, is the use of artificial turf in front lawns. Some backyard areas, particularly around swimming pools, find artificial turf being used frequently as a way of maintaining a never-changing, manicured appearance. High-end driveways and walkways utilize artificial turf as pattern inlay greenery. But now the City of West Palm Beach is seriously considering entire “front-of-the-house” approval for artificial turf installations. Do you agree or disagree?
Artificial turf lawns to be topic
West Palm mulls lifting ban on front-yard use
From The Palm Beach Post | SUNDAY, JULY 18, 2021
Wayne Washington | Palm Beach Post USA TODAY NETWORK
During the pandemic, Chic Price and his wife would go on walks through his neighborhood off Putnam Road in West Palm Beach. He noticed that some of his neighbors had replaced the grass in their front yard with artificial turf. It seemed like a good idea for his yard, too. The artificial grass would allow him to cut back on water usage, and it wouldn’t require the chemicals lawns frequently need. So, in January, Price, a retired paramedic who sells medical supplies, decided to spend $10,000 having artificial turf installed in his front yard. Neighbors, he said, frequently commented on how beautiful his yard looked. Price and his neighbors might have liked the new artificial lawn, but the city of West Palm Beach did not. The city’s code enforcement rules allow turf to be used on the sides and back of homes, but it is not allowed in the front of them. Price was cited and fined. He rallied other artificial turf-using residents, urging them to ask city officials to reconsider the front-yard ban, which he calls “ridiculous.” They wrote emails and attended City Commission meetings to tell commissioners artificial grass saves water and reduces the use of chemicals.
Their collective pleas didn’t fall on deaf ears. The city plans to hold a morning workshop Aug. 2 to discuss its ban on artificial turf in front yards. That ban was put in place three years ago when the city amended its landscaping code. Several factors went into the city’s decision. “The prevailing thought was we did not want the turf to be visible from the street,” said Rick Greene, the city’s Development Services director, who oversees the city’s code. There were other concerns, too. Artificial grass does not drain as well as natural grass, Greene said, and there are worries it traps heat and emits toxic fumes at high temperatures. Artificial turf is evolving, however, and it could be safer now than it was a few years ago. “That’s exactly what we’re researching now,” Greene said. Whether a Palm Beach County resident can use artificial turf in their front yard depends on where they live in the county. Boca Raton does not allow it in front yards, nor does Wellington or Boynton Beach. Residents in Delray Beach can submit an application to use artificial turf, which can’t cover more than 20 percent of the home’s landscaped area. The town of Palm Beach at its May 20 meeting discussed an ordinance to draft a policy that would more strictly regulate the use of artificial turf.
In the American West, which is battling a crippling drought, states have taken action to conserve water. California Gov. Gavin Newsom asked residents to voluntarily conserve water, a request critics said doesn’t go far enough to deal with the water crisis the state is likely to face if the drought continues. Nevada has banned grass in areas such the entrances to housing developments, office parks and street medians. The ban, signed into law in June, does not cover golf courses, single-family homes or parks. Florida isn’t as parched as the American West, but worries about climate change has brought a sharper focus here on the coming scarcity of water. Some residents are taking matters into their own hands. “We’ve noticed over the last year that there are more residents who have installed artificial turf,” Greene said. This year, his staff began calling installers to let them know that a permit is required for the use of such grass. Price said he is not aware of any resident who had artificial turf installed in their front yard knowing it was against city code. He said he conducted an informal survey this year and found 60 homeowners in the southern portion of West Palm Beach who had installed artificial turf in their front yard. The benefits, he said, are too important to ignore. Price said his water usage was reduced by two-thirds. The maintenance and water-saving costs are the same reason many professional, college and even high school football stadiums — like Wellington High — have shifted to the concept. And he liked the other environmental benefits. “I realized that our water system is finite,” he said. “You don’t have to use harmful chemicals that go into the drainage system and kill manatees.”
A record number of manatees have died in Florida this year. Experts say boat strikes remain a big killer of the animals, but many others are dying because of the absence of their primary food source — sea grasses. Water pollution is thought to be the cause of the sea grass loss. It’s not clear what role, if any, lawn chemicals play in that water pollution. Price said he could easily see how water from fertilized and chemically sprayed lawns can end up in the city’s drainage system and into local waterways. Artificial grass, Price said, doesn’t need to be watered or sprayed. If it was so bad, Price said, why is it allowed in the back and side of homes but not in the front? “Nobody can tell me why they don’t allow it in the front yard,” he said. “It makes no sense whatsoever.” Commissioner Christina Lambert said that, like Price, she does not understand why fake turf is allowed in the side and back of homes but not in the front. “‘I’ve been asking the same question,” she said. The upcoming workshop will give her and her colleagues and chance to learn about turf and whether it can be a tool the city uses in its battle against climate change. “Water is a growing concern,” she said. “We have to take that into consideration. I think we need to look at all of that — water usage, pesticides, environmental impacts. All of it.” Whatever the city does, it won’t change things for Price.
After incurring what he estimates to be $800 to $1,000 in fines, which he said were increasing at a rate of $100 per day, Price had his artificial turf removed. “I succumbed to the pressure,” he said. It cost $4,500 to have the artificial turf removed and replaced with real grass. “Because it’s new sod, I’m watering every day now,” he said.
WPB should ban fake turf
On Monday, the City of West Palm Beach discussed lifting the ban on synthetic turf in front lawns. Currently, the city’s code enforcement only allows artificial turf in backyards and side yards. Fake turf has emerged as a dubious answer to growing water scarcity concerns. These concerns have been heightened amidst crippling droughts in the American West, and the recent drought locally. Residents and public officials have asked, why is turf allowed in some areas, but not others? The more important question is, should we be using fake turf at all?
Perhaps not. There are serious safety concerns with artificial turf. Recently, the Environmental Protection Agency acknowledged that synthetic turf contains toxic chemicals, some of which are known to cause cancer. These harmful compounds leach into the water table and can off-gas and be inhaled when turf becomes too hot (up to 200 degrees.) Additionally, studies now show that both the turf backing and the artificial grass blades contain the highly toxic fluorinated chemicals, commonly known as ‘forever chemicals’ because they do not break down in nature or in the human body. These have been linked to lower childhood immunity, endocrine disruption and cancer. There are also environmental concerns. To prevent health risks, turf must be regularly treated with biocides — compounds designed to kill an even wider array of microorganisms than pesticides — that end up in the groundwater. Animal droppings leave bacteria that doesn’t dissipate if it’s not treated with biocides. Artificial turf not only requires fossil fuels to manufacture but is also notoriously difficult to dispose of. Synthetic turf fields need to be replaced every 8-10 years. There are industry guidelines for recycling, but it’s questionable as to how much, if any, discarded turf is actually recycled.
There are more responsible ways to address water scarcity issues, such as reclaimed water. It is a cheap and sustainable water supply for irrigation that reduces withdrawals from our aquifers and scales back wastewater discharges into the ocean. Each day, roughly 15 million gallons are distributed by the Palm Beach County Water Utilities Department to local golf courses and residential lawns. Expansion of reclaimed water access should trump any debate over allowing a toxic, impervious, bacteria magnet that dramatically increases our carbon footprint.
Rob Long, chairman of the Palm Beach Soil & Water Conservation District.