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Lead in Astro Turf Attracts CPSC Attention

Apr 22, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

There may be health hazards linked to lead with the artificial turf currently installed in schools, parks, and stadiums nationwide and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is looking into the possible risks to Americans.  The artificial-turf industry denied its products are dangerous.

Health officials have already closed down two fields in New Jersey after detecting what they found to be unexpectedly high levels of lead in the synthetic turf.  This raised concerns that athletes could swallow or inhale fibers or dust from the playing surface.  "We have a great deal of interest in any consumer product that could be used by children where children could potentially be in harm's way because of lead exposure," CPSC spokesman Scott Wolfson said.

According to the Synthetic Turf Council, there are approximately 3,500 synthetic playing fields made of various materials—including nylon and polyethylene—nationwide; about 800 are installed annually at schools, colleges, parks, and stadiums.  Use of artificial turf has grown exponentially in recent years and is seen as a way to cut costs and water use.  But, pigment containing lead chromate is used in some surfaces to make the grass green and to enable the turf to maintain its color under the fading effects of sunlight.  It remains unclear how widely the compound is used. The New Jersey Health Department found lead in both of the nylon fields it tested which were Astro Turf brand surfaces.

Many consider lead poisoning to be one of the most important chronic environmental illnesses affecting children today.  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.

A major challenge with lead poisoning is the difficulty in recognizing its subtle symptoms and that no pathognomonic—or definitive—indicators exist or point to contamination.  When faced with peculiar symptoms that do not match any one particular disease, lead poisoning should be considered.  Children with lead poisoning may experience irritability, sleeplessness or excess lethargy, poor appetite, headaches, abdominal pain with or without vomiting—and generally without diarrhea—constipation, and changes in activity level.  A child with lead toxicity be iron deficient and pale because of anemia and can be either hyperactive or lethargic.  There may also be dental pointers, for instance, lead lines on gingival tissue.  In adults there may be motor problems and an increase in depressive disorders, aggressive behavior, and other maladaptive affective disorders as well as problems with sexual performance, impotence and infertility, as well as increased fetal wastage and sleep disorders, either.  They may be over sleeping or have difficulty falling asleep.

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