April 17, 2008 -- The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has begun investigating potential hazards from lead in some artificial turf sports fields across the country.
California State Sen. Abel Maldonado says the scrutiny of federal watchdogs could help his bill calling for a state study comparing the public health and environmental impacts of synthetic and natural turf.
"These fields are a problem," Maldonado said Wednesday, also pointing to the possible risk of infection from turf burns. "Having [the CPSC] come up with a study is huge for me."
Gil Lemmon, associate commissioner of the California Interscholastic Federation's North Coast Section, said at least 20 percent of its 170 schools have artificial turf fields and a CPSC study could spark "huge concern. Anything that our children play on, we want to make sure it's safe for them."
Synthetic playing surfaces are increasingly popular because they are durable and easy to maintain. But two fields in New Jersey, The College of New Jersey's Lions' Stadium Field in Ewing and Frank Sinatra Park in Hoboken, were closed this week after state health regulators said they found high levels of lead in turf fiber samples.
The CPSC said Wednesday that it is "looking into the use of lead in outdoor synthetic field surfaces."
Eddy Bresnitz, New Jersey's deputy health commissioner, said users of such fields could potentially inhale or ingest dust contaminated with lead. Although the state thinks there is a "very low risk" for exposure, users should wash up and launder their clothes after playing on artificial fields, he said.
Field managers, meanwhile, should frequently wet synthetic surfaces to keep dust levels down. "To the extent we can take preventive measures, we should do that," Bresnitz said.
The Synthetic Turf Council, a trade group, estimates there are 3,500 artificial fields in the USA and that about 900 to 1,000 are installed each year.
President Rick Doyle accused New Jersey health officials of creating a "media storm" based on "incorrect criteria." Synthetic fields "do not represent a human health risk," Doyle said.