Elevated Lead Levels Force Closing of 2 N.J. Artificial Turf Ballfields

April 17, 2008

Two New Jersey sports fields were closed this week after tests of their artificial turf turned up unsafe levels of lead. It’s the second time since December that a ballfield in the state has been closed over concerns about elevated lead levels found in turf fibers.

Hoboken attorney Steven Kleinman said the city shut the playing field at Frank Sinatra Park after tests by state health officials found lead levels far exceeding the Environmental Protection Agency’s allowable concentration of the metal.

The College of New Jersey’s Lions Stadium field also has been closed until at least early May, when results of further tests are expected, Matthew Golden, executive director of public affairs, told the college newspaper, The Signal. Golden did not immediately return an after-hours message from The Associated Press seeking comment.

An athletic field in the Ironbound section of Newark was closed last fall and its turf ripped up and replaced after a similar test result. The results of that test prompted state health officials to make a broader assessment.

Twelve more artificial turf fields were tested around the state and two _ the Hoboken field and the one at The College of New Jersey _ were shown to contain excessive lead. Those two and the Ironbound field were all nylon-based turf made by Astro Turf.

The test results were released Monday.

Dr. Eddy Bresnitz, epidemiologist for the state Department of Health and Senior Services, said lead levels at all three fields were up to 10 times higher than what is considered safe.

He has asked the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission to investigate.

“We were concerned the Ironbound results were really a sentinel site for other potentially contaminated sites not only in New Jersey, but around the country,” Bresnitz said.

It is not known how easily lead from turf is absorbed by the body. Results of further tests on the high-lead turf samples are expected early next month.

“Based on the limited information we have at this time, the Department’s assessment is that there is a very low risk for exposure,” the health department said in a statement issued Monday.

Until the additional testing is completed, however, health officials suggested limiting play time at high-lead fields, showering afterward and washing uniforms separately after each outing.

Jon Pritchett, the CEO of General Sports Venue, the Raleigh, N.C.-based exclusive licensee of Astro Turf products in the United States, said the company’s independent tests have shown a low risk of exposure.

“Obviously, we take very seriously any concerns about the safety of our products and this is no exception,” Pritchett said.

He said the lead used in the turf’s pigment is encapsulated in the blades and is therefore unlikely to leach out. Lead is most likely to be found in older turf fields, he said. The company now makes a lead-free nylon-based turf.

Jeff Tittel, executive director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said his organization has been fighting the use of public money for artificial turf fields for the past six years.

He said the original belief that turf might be a better environmental choice than grass because it doesn’t require fertilizer or water gave way to concerns over the chemicals it’s made of.

“If cows can’t eat it, children shouldn’t be allowed to play on it,” he said.


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