Turf War: California Sues Fake-Grass Makers over Lead Content (Los Angeles Times)

Marc Lifsher, Los Angeles Times, September 4, 2008

California's attorney general wants to put a new spin on the old admonition
"Don't Step on the Grass!"


The warning could read "Don't Roll on the
Artificial Turf" if Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown and local law enforcement officials
prevail in an lawsuit filed late Tuesday against three top makers of the green
plastic playing fields and grass-like indoor-outdoor
carpeting.


The complaint filed in Alameda County Superior Court
alleges the three manufacturers violated California's Proposition 65
environmental law by knowingly failing to disclose that their products contain
lead.


The lawsuit, which has been joined by L.A. City Atty. Rocky
Delgadillo and the Solano County Dist. Atty. David W. Paulson , names Beaulieu
Group LLC of Georgia, Astroturf LLC of Georgia and Fieldturf USA Inc. of
Florida.


Beaulieu's products are "safe and we are in compliance with
California's Proposition 65," said Peter Farley, the company's general counsel.
Astroturf and Fieldturf did not respond to calls for comment.


Lead, which is used to give a natural green hue to the
artificial turf, has been identified by state agencies as a chemical that can
cause cancer, damage to male and female reproductive systems, and birth defects
in developing fetuses.


Children and other individuals can ingest harmful
levels of lead by absorbing it through the skin or by rubbing the ersatz grass
and then touching food or their mouths, the suit contends.


The state
attorney general's office said it found excessive lead levels in some, but not
all, of the artificial turf samples tested from the three
companies.


Although artificial turf presents little or no danger when it
is new, lead levels rise to potentially harmful levels as it gets older, said
Deputy Atty. Gen. Dennis A. Ragen, the state's lead attorney on the
lawsuit.


"As it ages, it forms more dust," he said, and could contain
levels of lead that are more than 20 times what's allowed by Proposition
65.


The state, Ragen said, is negotiating with the three companies and is
optimistic that a legal settlement can be reached that requires the products to
be reformulated so that no lead is used in the manufacturing.


Most
companies targeted by Proposition 65, known as the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic
Enforcement Act of 1986, are eager to change their products rather than be
forced to sell them with a warning that they contain chemicals "known to the
state of California" to cause cancer or birth defects.


"The bottom line
is this is 2008. Why are you making something with lead deliberately put into
it?" Ragan said. "You need to find some substitute to make the color
stable."


Beaulieu attorney Farley, said he hopes to reach a friendly
settlement with California. He stressed, however, that his company only makes an
indoor-outdoor type of product and does not sell artificial turf used on
athletic fields and stadiums.


The state decided to take action against
the three companies after it received a legal notice from an advocacy group, the
Oakland-based Center for Environmental Health, that it intended to file a
private lawsuit on the lead warning issue against Beaulieu and other artificial
turf manufacturers.


"Our testing on products from dozens of companies
shows that artificial turf can contain high amounts of lead that can easily come
off onto children's hands when they play on turf fields," said Michael Green,
the center's executive director.

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