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Artificial Turf Makers Could Face Lawsuits over Lead Contamination

Jun 24, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

Just days after the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommended testing some types of artificial turf for lead, an environmental advocacy group is issuing its own warning.  The non-profit Center for Environmental Health has also threatened to take legal action against some of the biggest manufacturers and sellers of artificial turf unless they remove lead from their products.

Pigment containing lead chromate is used in some surfaces to make the turf green and hold its color in sunlight. It is not clear how widely the compound is used.  The industry has long maintained that lead chromate poses no hazard, but recently that assertion has become suspect.

Last week, the CDC recommended that  fields containing worn or faded turf blades made of nylon or nylon-blend fibers and nylon fields with visible dust be tested.  Those recommendations followed the Consumer Products Safety Commission's (CPSC) announcement in April that it was reviewing possible risks linked to lead with artificial turf currently installed in schools, parks, and stadiums nationwide.  At the same time, officials in New Jersey closed down two fields in that state after detecting what they found to be unexpectedly high levels of lead in the synthetic turf, raising concerns that athletes could swallow or inhale fibers or dust from turf surfaces.

In its advisory, the CDC stated, “As determined by New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services, limited sampling of additional athletic fields in New Jersey and commercial products indicates that artificial turf made of nylon or nylon/polyethylene blend fibers contains levels of lead that pose a potential public health concern.”

The Center for Environmental Health conducted its own lead testing of artificial turf, as well as indoor/outdoor carpeting, artificial lawns and playground grass made with nylon and polyethylene.  The group classified the amount of lead as excessive if it exceeded 600 parts per million, which is the maximum allowable in paint. About 50 products were tested, and at least 15 were found to have high lead levels. In one test, lead was so accessible, it could be wiped away with a cloth.

The California-based group has begun notifying 15 turf manufacturers and retailers - including the maker of Astro Turf, Ace Hardware and Lowe's - of its intent to sue under California's Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act unless the companies agree to recall the products or reformulate artificial turf so it contains less lead.

Exposure to lead in children and unborn children can cause brain and nervous system damage, behavioral and learning problems, slowed growth, hearing problems, headaches, mental and physical retardation, and behavioral and other health problems.  Lead is also known to cause cancer and reproductive harm and, in adults, lead can damage the nervous system.  Despite efforts to control lead and the success in decreasing lead poisoning, serious cases still occur.  Once poisoned, no organ system is immune.  Of particular concern is the developing brain because negative influences can have long-lasting effects and can continue well into puberty and beyond.


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