Lead-ing The Discussion

Igniting concerns and headlines nationwide, the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services (NJDHSS) announced on April 14 that elevated lead levels were found in several synthetic-turf fields. The NJDHSS turned to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) for further evaluation. On July 30, the CPSC announced that synthetic-turf fields are suitable to install and play on for children and people of all ages.

Faced with numerous questions, the Synthetic Turf Council (STC) is sharing the story of what took place, the industry response and its voluntary commitment to support the long-term objective of the CPSC, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to eliminate lead from all products where feasible.

An Intensive Investigation

Quite frankly, the issue took the industry by surprise. People panic when the word “lead” is mentioned, as it conjures images of peeling paint that negatively affects a child’s development. But lead chromate is very different. Used to improve colorfastness in the pigments of many consumer products like synthetic turf, this inorganic substance is encapsulated to prevent it from being readily absorbed by the body or released into the environment. In more than 40 years, there has never been an instance of human illness or environmental damage caused by synthetic turf.

The situation began when the EPA found a synthetic-turf field contaminated with lead, located within an abandoned industrial complex in the Ironbound section of Newark, N.J. As a result, the NJDHSS conducted a limited study of fields in the surrounding area. Although no standards have been developed to apply to the lead chromate in synthetic turf, the NJDHSS elected to relate its lead level readings to the EPA standard for free lead in soil, and it concluded that the elevated readings in fields in Ewing and Hoboken, in addition to Newark, were cause for concern.

The STC--in conjunction with some of its member companies--immediately launched an intensive investigation with the help of experts in toxicology, epidemiology and chemistry to fully understand the accessibility of the lead chromate imbedded in the pigments used to color synthetic turf to those who play on synthetic turf fields. These experts confirmed that the encapsulated lead chromate did not present a human health risk. The CPSC's guidance states that young children “should not chronically ingest more than 15 micrograms of lead per day from consumer products.” Putting the NJDHSS test results in perspective, polymer and fiber engineering specialist Dr. Davis Lee calculated that a child playing on the three New Jersey fields would have to wipe his fingers on the turf and put them in his mouth 750 times in a day to receive enough lead to equal the CPSC threshold level.

Proactive Collaboration

Committed to the safety and well-being of the public, the STC requested and attended meetings with the CPSC, EPA, CDC and NJDHSS. The association shared scientific information and third-party expert analysis, and offered full cooperation in support of the investigations.

CPSC Findings

The CPSC’s July 30 announcement was based on its evaluation of old and newer synthetic-turf fields. It concluded that “young children are not at risk from exposure to lead in these fields.” The evaluation showed that newer fields had no lead, or generally had the lowest lead levels. Although small amounts of lead were detected on the surface of some older fields, none of the tested fields released amounts of lead that would be harmful to children.

The full statement is available at www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/prerel/prhtml08/08348.html.

Continued Improvement

Although their evaluation found no harmful lead levels, CPSC staff urged the industry to develop voluntary standards that will eventually eliminate the use of lead in synthetic-turf pigments where feasible. The STC promptly issued a press release announcing its proactive, carefully prepared plans to achieve this goal.

Throughout the years, the synthetic turf industry has developed and tested new pigment formulations to enable the removal of all or most of the lead from over 90 percent of the pigments used to color synthetic turf. Now the STC is committed to reducing lead levels in the remaining 10 percent of all colored fibers that still require lead chromate to meet the consumer’s demand for long-term colorfastness and vibrancy in certain colors. The association voluntarily pledged to reduce lead levels in accordance with the proposed Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (H.R. 4040), and to meet the same strict standards Congress is likely to impose on the children’s toy industry. Specifically, STC members will reduce lead levels in all pigments used to color synthetic turf to 300 parts-per-million (ppm) or less no later than January 1, 2010, and to 100 ppm or less no later than January 1, 2012.

Other Reports On Safety

In May, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene released a 180-page review and assessment of available research and scientific knowledge by an independent environmental and engineering consulting firm attesting to the safety of crumb-rubber infilled synthetic turf. In July, the New York Department of Health issued a fact sheet on synthetic turf addressing health and safety considerations similar to the New York City report, including injury, infection, latex allergy, chemical exposure and heat stress. Both of these documents--plus numerous independent and current research, technical papers, government and regulatory agency position statements--can be found at www.syntheticturfcouncil.org.

Like parks and recreation managers across the country, the STC is committed to safeguarding the well-being of those who play on synthetic turf. The STC will continue to make independent, current and credible research and science available as it is published, and be accessible for forthright information to ensure that users enjoy peace of mind.

Rick Doyle is the President of the Synthetic Turf Council, which was founded in 2003 to serve as an objective resource assisting buyers and end users with the selection, use and maintenance of synthetic-turf systems in sports field, golf and landscape applications. STC members produce and install most of the synthetic turf sports fields in North America. For more information, visit www.syntheticturfcouncil.org.