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Test Artificial Turf for Lead, CDC Says

Jun 20, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) just issued a recommendation that some artificial turf athletic fields be tested for lead.  This follows April’s move by US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) where it was reviewing possible risks linked to lead with artificial turf currently installed in schools, parks, and stadiums nationwide.  At that time, health officials closed down two fields in New Jersey 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.

Attention was focused on New Jersey after state health authorities discovered lead while investigating whether runoff from a scrap-metal operation in Newark had contaminated an adjacent playing field.  The three New Jersey fields were voluntarily ripped up.

The CDC recommends fields containing worn or faded turf blades made of nylon or nylon-blend fibers and nylon fields with visible dust be tested.  And, while the artificial turf industry denied its products are dangerous, tests confirm lead in turf can be absorbed by humans.  The tests conducted by New Jersey health officials found potentially hazardous lead levels on worn nylon and nylon-blend athletic fields.  In its current advisory, the CDC states, "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."

Use of artificial turf has grown exponentially in recent years and is seen as a way to cut costs and water use.  But, lead chromate pigment is sometimes used to make the grass green and maintain its color in sunlight.  It remains unclear how widely the compound is used; however, the New Jersey Health Department found lead in both of the nylon fields it tested which were Astro Turf brand surfaces.  Additional tests are being done to better understand the absorption of lead from turf products.

The artificial turf industry has said its products are safe because the lead used to color the turf is encapsulated within the blades, but state authorities requested more comprehensive testing on a federal level and the CPSC agreed and is looking into the possible health hazards of lead in artificial turf installed at schools, parks, and stadiums across the country. 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.  

The CDC says to minimize risk of lead exposure, field managers should water down fields and use other dust-suppression measures and recommends thoroughly washing hands and showering immediately after contact with turf, turning clothes inside out and washing them separately from other laundry.  Athletic shoes be left outside and drinking containers should be covered and kept in a bag or cooler when not in use.

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