It took less than a decade for California legislators to reverse their position on synthetic turf.
Assembly Bill 626, signed into law Oct. 8 by Gov. Gavin Newsom, allows cities and counties to ban artificial grass out of concern that “forever chemicals” could potentially leech into the soil.
And while the industry works toward expanding products without perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), Newsom appears willing to ban the chemical outright in synthetic turf.
In 2016, then-Gov. Jerry Brown stopped local governments from banning artificial grass. The idea was that in California’s drought-prone environment, synthetic turf could provide businesses and homes lawns without the same water requirements.
But in 2019, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found PFAS in some artificial turfs. PFAS have been linked to cancer, kidney, and liver damage, as well as birth defects.
“Like most plastics, artificial turf has a limited life span,” a report from the California State Senate stated. “It is rarely recycled due to the high cost of separating and cleaning the material, as well as market constraints on reusability. When artificial turf needs to be replaced, it is commonly disposed in landfills where it continues to leech toxins into the surrounding soil, water, and air.”
Not All Synthetic Turfs Contain PFAS
A number of synthetic lawn producers advertise their products as being PFAS-free. One Fresno turf supplier said it is mostly “cheaper” products that contain PFAS.
The biggest culprit is the crumb rubber used to weigh turf down and make grass blades stand straight, according to the National Institutes of Health. Other products such as silica sand can be used in place of crumb rubber.
Another bill, AB 1423 from California Sen. Ben Allen (D-Redondo Beach) would have banned artificial turfs containing PFAS beginning in 2025.
Newsom vetoed that bill, saying it did not clarify which agency would oversee regulation.
“While I strongly support the author’s intent and have signed similar legislation in the past, I am concerned that this bill falls short of providing enhanced protection to California consumers due to lack of regulatory oversight,” Newsom said in his veto message. “Previously enacted single-product chemical bans, which also lack oversight, are proving challenging to implement.”