Schools and cities across the country are closing athletic fields in response to reports of a lead threat in artificial turf, but turf manufacturers say there is no health risk.
The wave of field closures began two weeks ago when health officials in New Jersey discovered elevated lead levels in two synthetic turf fields. This prompted the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to begin a national investigation.
“We are in the very, very initial stages of our investigation,” said commission spokesman Scott Wolfson. “The key point for all parents and school administrators is that there is not a cause for alarm and panic at this time. It is not an issue where fields need to be shut down immediately.”
There are approximately 3,500 synthetic playing fields in use in the United States, according to the Synthetic Turf Council. Locally, Aggie Stadium’s Sochor Field and the athletic field at the Woodland Community and Senior Center both use artificial turf.
Wolfson said even if there is some lead content in the turf, it is not an issue for older teenagers or adults.
“This is an issue for children,” he said. “It can hinder development in a child and hinder growth and cognitive skills, but it takes extreme amounts to hurt an older teenager or adult.”
Synthetic turf manufacturers say there is no health risk associated with their product. The Synthetic Turf Council, an organization that collects research and information regarding synthetic turf sports fields, released a statement assessing the health risk.
“There is no scientific evidence of a health risk for children or adults based on recent test results and current knowledge of the chemical structure of aged synthetic turf products,” said David Black and Davis Lee in a joint written statement released by the council. “Reports of health concerns have not been supported by any laboratory analysis on the products or humans that indicate any risk of harm due to potential exposure to chemicals.”
UC Davis officials say the artificial turf in Aggie Stadium is not contaminated.
“Our field is a second-generation material made of polyethylene,” said Mark Lucas, sports turf manager at UC Davis. “The fields in New Jersey were first-generation, nylon-type fields.”
The older nylon fields were manufactured with lead to protect the color from leaching out, said Lucas, who is also the president of the Northern California Sports Turf Managers Association.
“If you happened to ingest it, it would just go straight through your system,” he said. “You wouldn’t absorb it.”
The field at Aggie Stadium is currently only used by three groups – football, lacrosse and the California Aggie Marching Band-uh! – no children use the field.
The investigation by the New Jersey Health Department examined the surfaces of 12 fields, two of which were nylon-based. Lead was not found in the polyethylene fields.
Wolfson said he would not comment on how long the Consumer Product Safety Commission investigation would take.
“We have responded as quickly as we can,” he said. “We want to do a thorough investigation.”
JEREMY OGUL can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. XXX