Worn Out Artificial Turf Poses Lead Exposure Risk

NEWARK, New Jersey, June 23, 2008 (ENS) – While conducting a routine health investigation at a scrap metal facility in Newark this spring, the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services and the federal Agency for Toxic Substances tested a nearby community athletic field for lead contamination.

When samples taken from the field showed high levels of lead in the field dust, but not from the scrap metal facility, red flags went up, and further testing was conducted on other artificial turf fields to see it they had similar high lead levels.

“These test results show there is reason for concern about the potential for lead exposure from artificial turf fields that contain lead,” said New Jersey Health and Senior Services Commissioner Heather Howard earlier this month.

The tests found that artificial turf made of nylon or nylon/polyethylene blend fibers contains levels of lead that pose a potential public health concern. Tests of artificial turf fields made with only polyethylene fibers showed that these fields contained very low levels of lead.

Some of the fields with elevated lead in dust or turf fiber samples were weathered and dusty. Fields that are old, that are used frequently, and that are exposed to the weather break down into dust as the turf fibers are worn or demonstrate progressive signs of weathering, including fibers that are abraded, faded or broken.

New artificial turf poses little
risk. (Photo courtesy
Harvard University)

The risk of lead exposure is low from new fields with elevated lead levels in their turf fibers because the turf fibers are still intact and the lead is unlikely to be available for harmful exposures to occur. As the turf ages and weathers, lead is released in dust that could then be ingested or inhaled, and the risk for harmful exposure increases.

“Laboratory testing has shown that lead can be dissolved from artificial turf fibers and turf field dust under conditions that simulate the human digestive process, leaving the lead available for the body to absorb,” said Howard.

“It’s a special concern for children who are already exposed to lead, possibly by living in a home with lead paint. This could add to the lead levels already in their bodies,” said State Epidemiologist and Deputy Commissioner Dr. Eddy Bresnitz.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC, based in Atlanta, says these factors should be considered when evaluating any given field for potential harmful lead exposures.

“At this time, CDC does not yet understand the potential risks associated with exposure to dust from worn artificial turf,” the agency said in a statement.

If exposures do occur, the CDC does not know how much lead the body will absorb, but if enough lead is absorbed, it can cause neurological development problems such as an IQ deficit.

Children absorb lead more easily than adults and children’s developing nervous systems are more susceptible to the adverse health effects of lead, which can cause developmental delay and behavioral problems.

In general, children less than six years old are more likely to be affected by lead than adults because of increased contact with lead sources in the environment, including lead contaminated house dust and soil.

To date, no cases of elevated blood lead levels in children have been linked to artificial turf on athletic fields in New Jersey or elsewhere, the CDC said.

The both federal and state agencies suggest taking precautionary measures to minimize exposure to lead when playing on artificial turf.

Field managers should consider implementing dust-suppression measures and posting signs indicating that after playing on the field, people are encouraged to wash their hands and bodies for at least 20 seconds using soap and warm water.

Clothes worn on the field should be taken off and turned inside out as soon as possible after using the field to avoid tracking contaminated dust to other places. In vehicles, people can sit on a large towel or blanket if it is not feasible to remove their clothes.

These clothes, towels and blankets should be washed separately and shoes worn on the field should be kept outside of the home.

Eating while on the field or turf product is discouraged. Players should avoid contaminating drinking containers with dust and fibers from the field.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission regulates consumer products, including artificial turf. The state of New Jersey has asked the commission to investigate this potential problem.

For more information about testing, dust suppression measures, and other topics related to New Jersey’s work to address lead in artificial turf, click here [www.state.nj.us].

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