To delay the cost of laying and maintaining natural grass, some sports fields are fitted with Astro-Turf, a synthetic lawn primarily made up of rubber, nylon and plastic. But Claire Dworsky, a 10-year-old soccer player, had some very real concerns about water run-off from such fields. So, she took action.
Claire had overheard adults debating the issue as her city, San Francisco, considers replacing a Golden Gate Park athletic field with artificial turf. She began to wonder about the puddles she stepped in during her soccer games, 'What type of chemicals does that water contain?'
“We have parks because we want to make a connection with nature. Plastic just doesn’t do it.”
--Katherine Howard, spokeswoman of the preservation group, Ocean Edge
After Claire won a National Science Foundation Kids Science Challenge, she was paired with Professor Adina Paltan of UC Santa Cruz, an oceanographer who trained her in water sampling. Over a six month period, Claire tested over 100 water samples from both synthetic turf and grass fields while studying the effects of the fake-grass water on Daphnia Magnus (a tiny shrimp-like water creature) and on carrot growth.
Amazingly, Claire's study was the first of its kind. Somehow, nobody ever considered that water from a field of chemical-ridden plastic would pose any danger to the athletes, not to mention the marine wildlife nearby.
Ultimately, Claire’s research showed that most of fake-grass runoff water contained dangerous levels of heavy metals and other toxics, exceeding state and federal guidelines. Her efforts have earned Claire the Action For Nature’s 2011 International Young Eco-Hero Award, presented in October.
“I wanted to influence the debate – so decision makers don’t just look at the money issue (is it cheaper to put in a synthetic turf field than pay expensive gardeners to care for grass fields) but also ask themselves, is this what's best for children who are exposed to this water? What's best for birds and fish that are exposed to this water, what's best for a baby who crawls on synthetic turf and its runoff? And what are the real costs of both grass and turf fields?”
Watch Claire explain her experiment here.
Though the research has ended, Claire continues to investigate environmental issues. She has spoken at her school, (Katherine Delmar Burke School in San Francisco) and with city officials. She also presented at the American Geophysical Union, one of the largest gatherings of scientists in the world.
I'm thinking Claire's generation might just be the one to save us from ourselves.
BlogHer Section Editor, LIFE & GREEN; Contributing Editor, Animal & Wildlife Concerns; Proprietor, ClizBiz
More from living