Health warning as city BANS grass during water crisis

Manicured lawns will soon be a thing of the past in the US city of Las Vegas as decades of drought continue to dry up water supplies.

Across the city, 16 million square metres of natural grass will be replaced due to regulations outlawing lawns that are purely decorative.

While some spaces will be landscaped with desert plants, a more popular option is synthetic turf, and that's got experts worried.

Left - a worker rolling out synthetic turf. Right - an aerial shot of suburban Las Vegas
Lawns across Las Vegas are being replaced with synthetic substitutes due to drought. Source: Getty

The warning about synthetic alternatives has come from Australia, where many homeowners have already ripped up their natural lawns, and rolled plastic alternatives.

Retailers including Bunnings and Mitre 10 stock a variety of plastic grass alternatives, which boomed in popularity when the nation was parched by drought.

Concrete better than synthetic grass, expert argues

Associate Professor Sebastian Pfautsch from Western Sydney University finds it disturbing that a place like Las Vegas would opt for synthetics, as they have high radiation loads and air temperatures.

"It really makes no sense," he said.

"It would be better to concrete everything."

Three infrared images showing how hot synthetic turf can get
Associate Professor Sebastian Pfautsch has measured temperatures on synthetic turf. Source: S. Pfautsch

Assoc Prof Pfautsch is reviewing the environmental impacts of synthetic grass in NSW, and has a number of concerns about it. They include:

  • Damage to waterway health

  • Destruction of soil health

  • Conducting extreme heat

  • Wildlife harm

  • Build up of smells

  • Waste disposal

Synthetic lawns can heat to 100 degrees

Assoc Prof Pfautsch is particularly interested in how fake lawns can store and radiate heat, increasing air temperature in already scorching environments.

He believes homeowners would be better off laying concrete than synthetics, because comparatively it is “relatively cool”.

That's because of concrete's high thermal mass and high albedo — as long as it’s left unpainted.

“We actually measured about 100 degrees Celsius as surface temperature on synthetic grass, particularly with older types which have a very short pile height,” he said.

Sports people and kids most at risk from synthetic grass

Assoc Prof Pfautsch said synthetic sports grounds are of particular concern.

His research has shown at 25 degrees air temperature, under a clear sky in summer where radiation loads can be really high, the material can bake to 70 degrees.

Children are particularly susceptible to overheating. Source: Getty (File)
Children are particularly susceptible to overheating. Source: Getty (File)

This means the body is exposed to much greater level of radiant heat, it therefore has to work much harder to keep down its core temperature.

Children are particularly susceptible to complications with heat stress until they develop full capacity to properly sweat and cool their bodies.

Las Vegas has a population of 644,000, and 134,000 of them are under the age of 18.

“We see that kids have real quick problems related to overheating, and that starts with headaches, nosebleeds, heat exhaustion and vomiting,” Assoc Prof Pfautsch said.

“This is something that can happen at much lower temperatures because of the way that radiation is stored in the material and then reradiating back on the body.”

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