Parents raise concerns over proposed synthetic turf at 6 Sunnyvale schools

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Friday, March 15, 2024
Concerns over proposed synthetic turf at 6 Sunnyvale schools
There are concerns from Sunnyvale parents and advocates over a proposal to replace playground surfaces at some schools with synthetic turf.

SUNNYVALE, Calif. (KGO) -- There are concerns from South Bay parents in the Sunnyvale School District and advocates over a proposal to replace playground surfaces at some schools with synthetic turf.

They claim heat and chemicals from the turf could be harmful, not just to the kids, but to the environment.

"My kids and all kids deserve to play on surfaces that are safe, and natural, and healthy," said parent Cortney Jansen who has one child in the district and another set to start there in the fall.

The district is proposing changes to playground surfaces at six elementary schools: Bishop Elementary, Cumberland Elementary, Fairwood Elementary, Lakewood Elementary, San Miguel Elementary, and Vargas Elementary.

As part of overall site improvements, the district board of trustees is looking into replacing floor matting at playgrounds with synthetic turf.

Community group Mothers Out Front Silicon Valley has mobilized parents like Jansen who have been concerned.

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"When I actually was first approached about this nine months ago, I didn't care, I'm just gonna admit it, I didn't care," Jansen said, "And I did a little bit of research."

She said that research led her to find out things about synthetic turf she found unsettling, including the high heat synthetic turf can produce that could be uncomfortable for kids and also environmental concerns.

Parents like Jansen and advocates are also worried about the risk of chemicals known as PFAS which are often found in artificial turf.

The EPA says that PFAS may be linked to harmful health effects in humans and animals.

"My kids are young, their systems are developing, their bodies are developing, and they're going to be extra susceptible to the effects of these chemicals," she said.

Community groups who have worked with the parents say there's also the threat of broken turf blades causing plastic pollution.

"You can imagine how the blades will separate from the field, how they'll get blown or washed down the storm drains and wind up in the creeks and then in the bay," said Susan Hinton, Chair of the Plastic Pollution Prevention committee with the Loma Prieta Sierra Club Chapter. "That is in fact what happens and that damages wildlife and ultimately people."

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One alternative the groups are pointing towards is engineered wood fibers.

"They're great and easy to take care of and inexpensive," Hinton said.

ABC7 reached out to the Sunnyvale School District, which issued this statement:

"The safety and well-being of our students and community are of top importance to us. We appreciate that the community is concerned about safety as well. We understand our community's concerns regarding using synthetic turf for our playground surfaces, and why they are recommending wood chips as an alternative. We have reviewed both synthetic turf and wood chips, and are recommending PFA-free synthetic turf based on our analysis."

The parents and advocates say that even though the turf claims to be free of PFAS, it still contains similar chemicals that aren't widely tested and may be harmful.

"Chemical companies are using something called short-chain chemicals now that are like PFAS, but they're shorter, and they're not considered PFAS by most people," Hinton said. "They don't know if those are dangerous or not. All of that stuff should be tested, and because we don't know, it should be rejected until we know it's safe, especially for our young children."

The Sunnyvale School District Board of Trustees planned to discuss bids for the project at its Thursday night meeting.

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