Artificial Turf Target of Legal Action; (San Jose Mercury News)
Suzanne Bohan, San Jose Mercury News, June 24, 2008
Artificial turf joins a growing list of products under fire
for harboring lead levels in excess of California
The Oakland-based Center for Environmental Health filed a legal action with
the state on Monday demanding that 15 retailers and manufacturers cease selling
and producing artificial turf containing lead – a potent neurotoxin. The turf
is typically used on athletic playing fields and as indoor/outdoor grass
carpet. The center is also demanding a recall of lead-containing turf and
posted warnings where the product is sold.
The center conducted tests of more than 50 samples of artificial turf
obtained from a variety of outlets, including Home Depot, Ace Hardware Corp.,
Orchard Supply Hardware and Lowe's Companies, as well as carpet retailers and
Bay Area turf installers.
In one third of the samples, they found lead levels high enough to
potentially exceed the state's upper limit of 0.5 micrograms per day of lead
exposure. People ingest lead through hand-to-mouth contact, or through skin
contact with the turf or dust from it.
"Parents see their kids playing on artificial turf and they expect the
turf to be safe," said Michael Green, executive director of the Center for
Environmental Health. "But we found that artificial grass and turf can
pose a real health threat to children. You may not have to mow it or water it,
but unfortunately you do have to test it for lead."
This latest legal action by the center, filed under the state's strict toxic
substances exposure law, called Proposition 65, follows its successful
campaigns to reduce lead levels in lunch boxes, jewelry, candy, children's
medicines and wood play equipment.
The environmental group's legal step also follows the spring launch of a
U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission investigation into the health risks of
lead in synthetic turf. The results are expected by the end of July, according
to Julie Vallese, director of the Office of Public Affairs at the commission.
But the investigation shouldn't trigger alarm, she said.
"When the Consumer Product Safety Commission opens an investigation, it
sends no message either way," Vallese said. "It's a fact-finding
mission to find out if there's a problem and a need for action." The
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, however, did express concern about
the health risks of artificial turf, particularly older turf, in a June 18
health advisory it issued.
In May, the California Senate also passed a bill sponsored by Sen. Abel
Maldonado, R-Santa Maria, calling for a state investigation into the health and
environmental effects of natural versus synthetic turf fields. The bill, SB
1277, next heads to the Assembly.
The issue came to light one year ago, as New Jersey
health officials were investigating the possible contamination at a playing
field by runoff from a nearby scrap metal plant in Newark. To their surprise, they found high
lead levels in the artificial turf itself, and dust from the field.
authorities then tested other synthetic turf fields, and found elevated lead
levels at three recreation fields and in two turf products marketed for home
use. Two of the fields were voluntarily closed, and the turf was replaced at
The legal action and federal investigation come at a time of rising
popularity of artificial turf. There are more than 3,500 synthetic playing
fields across the country, and 800 more built each year, according to the
industry's Synthetic Turf Council. About half of National Football League teams
play on synthetic turf, it added.
The council points out that while natural turf can require tens of thousands
of gallons of water for irrigation each week, along with large quantities of
fertilizers and pesticides, artificial turf requires far less maintenance. It
can also be used in all weather, without risk of harming wet fields with soil
compaction or other damage.
Assertions that synthetic turf poses a health risk elicited a vigorous
response by the council. It's Web site, at www.syntheticturfcouncil.org,
lists studies that the organization states demonstrate the safety of artificial
turf containing lead.
Shira Miller, spokeswoman for the organization, stressed that the products
contain chromate lead, which creates long-lasting green pigment in the
"Lead chromate is not like the regular lead you would get from
paint," she explained. "It's encapsulated to reduce any aspect of
bioavailability." Bioavailability refers to the ability of a substance,
like lead, to become biologically active when it's ingested, absorbed or
Health experts take seriously the health effects of lead exposure, particularly
in children. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that more than 300,000 U.S. children
have elevated blood levels of lead. It harms the nervous system, and studies
show it can also impair the immune system. Excess lead exposure in children is
linked to lowered IQ and test scores, memory problems, hyperactivity and
behavioral problems, including juvenile delinquency. In adults, it's associated
with cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and kidney failure in those
with chronic kidney disease, as well as with Lou Gehrig's disease.
Caroline Cox, research director with the Center for Environmental Health,
said while chromate lead does encapsulate the metal, the center's testing found
some still does break out.
"It's true that not all was bioavailable," Cox said. "But
about 20 percent of it was. So even if only a fraction of what you ingest is
bioavailable, that's still a problem."
In its June 18 health advisory, the CDC noted that older turf, worn down
from use, poses a greater risk than new turf.
In newer turf, "the turf fibers are still intact and the lead is
unlikely to be available for harmful exposure to occur," the advisory
stated. "As the turf ages and weathers, lead is released in dust that
could then be ingested or inhaled, and the risk for harmful exposure
To avoid exposure to lead, the CDC advises washing hands and clothing after
playing on artificial turf. The agency also suggests sitting on a towel or
blanket in a vehicle after exposure to the turf, to prevent spreading
potentially contaminated dust. It also advises against eating while on
synthetic turf, or drinking from containers left open on or near the field.
Cox advised testing artificial turf, and replacing any found to contain lead
with varieties that don't contain the heavy metal. About two-thirds of the
samples the center tested contained no detectable levels, she emphasized.
"Manufacturers know how to make it without lead," Cox said.
"They just haven't had a reason not to. I think they'll have a reason now."