Georgia, Florida Turf Firms Sued over Lead-Based Coloring (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Bob Keefe, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, September 5, 2008

Artificial turf may save
water and reduce pesticides, but some brands from manufacturers in Georgia and Florida
contain lead-based coloring that can harm consumers – especially children –
according to lawsuits filed in California.

California's attorney general is
suing three of the artificial grass makers, while the nonprofit Center for
Environmental Health is suing several others, claiming they violated California's strict
environmental laws by failing to disclose that their products contain lead.

The turf products at the
center of the disputes are widely used for athletic fields, lawn replacements
and for indoor/outdoor carpeting, not just in California but nationwide. They're sold by
big retailers such as Home
Depot and Lowe's as well as by specialty companies.

Named
in the lawsuit by California Attorney General Jerry Brown are Beaulieu Group
and Astroturf LLC of Georgia and Fieldturf USA
of Florida.

Defendants
in the lawsuit by the Center for Environmental Health are Beaulieu Group, Shaw
Industries and Turf Headquarters of Georgia, and Synthetic Turf International
of Florida.

According
to the suits filed this week, all the companies use or used pigments containing
lead that can rub off on consumers' hands or feet or be accidentally ingested
by children and pets.

Representatives
of artificial turf makers say they were somewhat surprised by the California
lawsuits, given that most manufacturers are already voluntarily phasing out
their use of lead-based pigments and that federal regulators have said their
current products are safe.

Michael
Green, executive director of the Center for Environmental Health, said the
suits were filed mainly to make sure companies' live up to their promises to
get the lead out.

"It's
one thing if companies make a promise and say they'll do [something]," Green
said. "But if they have a legally binding agreement that says they'll do
[something], consumers will now be sure they will do it."

Lead
has been found to cause cancer, birth defects and other health problems and is
especially harmful to developing children.

Since
1986, companies selling products containing elevated levels of lead in California must disclose
it to consumers under state law. Last month, President Bush signed legislation
that essentially bans lead from children's toys by 2012. Federal authorities
also are looking into more stringent lead standards for other products.

In
July, the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission announced that lead levels
in 14 samples of artificial turf it tested were not high enough to harm
children, but the agency also encouraged the industry to eventually eliminate
the use of lead.

As
a result, many manufacturers voluntarily agreed to meet the new federal lead
standards for toys under the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008
signed by Bush in August.

"Based
on what we've already said and what has already been announced, I think most
people are pretty comfortable that the product is safe and that this is a legal
technicality" in California, said Rick Doyle, president of the Synthetic Turf
Council, an industry group based in Atlanta.

At
Dalton-based Beaulieu of America, attorney Peter Farley said his company quit
using lead-based pigments in its indoor/outdoor carpeting beginning in
mid-July, even though it believes its previous products didn't violate the California standards and
even though the Consumer Product Safety Commission cleared artificial turf for
sale.

Farley
said Beaulieu is working closely with the California attorney general's office and the
Center for Environmental Health to resolve remaining concerns.

The
center's Green confirmed that much of the industry is cooperating with his
group and with the state.

Most
of the artificial turf industry is based in Georgia and surrounding states,
where it grew out of the region's carpet industry.

In
recent years, droughts and environmental concerns have helped the industry grow
by 10 percent to 15 percent annually, according to Doyle of the Synthetic Turf
Council.

The
Northeast is the biggest region of the country for using artificial turf, but California is the
biggest state for it, he said.

Artificial
turf makers use pigments containing lead chromate because it helps keep colors
from fading, and also because such pigments can be cheaper than other types of
coloring.

A
study by the Center for Environmental Health, which ultimately triggered the
suit by the California
attorney general's office, showed that some turf samples contained lead levels
150 times the limits outlined in the new federal standards for toys.

The
center's study was much more extensive than the Consumer Product Safety
Commission's, said Green. It involved 200 samples from 30 companies.

This
isn't the first time the group's findings on lead have run contrary to those of
the commission.

The
group was instrumental in forcing a major recall of children's lunch boxes last
year after it found elevated levels of lead in them – despite Consumer Product
Safety Commission findings to the contrary.

 

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