The California Coastal Commission has denied the University of California, Santa Barbara plans to install a synthetic turf surface at its Caesar Uyesaka Baseball Stadium from fear that microplastics that are either blown into the environment or are tracked out of the stadium on the shoes, might pollute the environment.
Plans for the new baseball field were put on hold last September when the California Sierra Club raised its objections.
“Use of synthetic turf has become an emerging issue for our staff,” said Steve Hudson, the commission’s deputy district director for the South Central Coast.
“About a decade ago, when we saw an uptick in the use of these synthetic turf systems, we originally approached and believed that these systems might be an important tool to adapt to the increasing frequency of our drought conditions in California.
“However, land use planning is an ever-evolving field. As our knowledge about the problem on non-point source pollution — in particular, microplastics — in our environment has grown, we’ve reevaluated our position and the environmental benefits and the adverse impacts to the environment from these source of synthetic turf solutions.”
UCSB had planned for a synthetic turf system that has recently been installed at other sites in the US state. It uses Brockfill, infill derived from trees that have been grown for this purpose.
Nevertheless, Hudson pointed out that the filtering of microplastics is “very tricky.”
“We may be talking more about a scale of how you could reduce — not necessarily eliminate — microplastics from that sort of storm water,” he said. “And frankly, our concern is that there are other methods of transport that haven’t been addressed by the university either this week or in our previous questions.”
That included having microplastics “tracked out” of the stadium on the shoes of the athletes or blown into the environment by the wind.
UCSB’s director of athletics, Kelly Barsky, told the commissioners that the university would be willing to work them and their staff to find some “alternative consideration that may find some compromise that we can feel comfortable with.”
She said the university could regularly test the water for microplastics and chemicals “at the inlet and the catch basin, report that information and continue to use mitigation techniques after reporting them.” The university had even drafted a plan to show that the system was designed to ensure that sand, rubber, or other field materials are blocked from entering this drainage system.
The decision by the California Coastal Commission might have much wider implications as the case now be used to ban more synthetic turf projects in coastal or environmentally sensitive areas. Elsewhere in the US, a dam operator was recently fined for using re-purposed synthetic turf as a lining for one of its projects.
California is clamping down on the use of synthetic turf to mitigate the urban heat island effect as well as the excessive use of water to water non-functional turf but the decision to push a university to rather invest in a water-demanding natural turf surface over synthetic turf from fears that microplastics as a result of yarn wear might pollute the environment, is new. The exact size of the problem is currently being studied.
In Europe, the use of containment measures is increasingly be pushed to mitigate problems from microplastics, be it polymeric infill or yarn wear, leave the field. Most of these measures have been adopted by FIFA and World Rugby and have been validated.