The CDC issues a public health alert on lead in artificial turf

Consumer Reports News: June 19, 2008 05:16 PM

Here's something for parents to think about the next time the kids come home dusty after a soccer game or other event on an artificial turf playing field. Certain types of old or weathered artificial turf fields contain levels of lead that pose a potential public health concern, according to a just-released alert from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The CDC says it is specifically concerned about older artificial turf made of nylon or nylon/polyethylene blend fibers. Turf made with only polyethylene fibers showed very low levels of lead. The agency also says the immediate risk for harmful lead exposure from new fields  is low because the turf fibers are still intact. As the turf ages and weathers, lead is released in the form of dust that could then be ingested or inhaled, and the risk for harmful exposure increases.

The alert was prompted by the results of a recent routine health investigation of a Newark, N.J. scrap metal facility by the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services (NJDHSS) and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). As part of the probe, the agencies tested a nearby community athletic field for lead contamination. Samples taken from the field showed high levels of lead in the field dust, but the lead did not come from the scrap metal facility.

After determining that the artificial turf was, in fact, the source of lead, the NJDHSS began to test other artificial turf fields and found similarly high lead levels. The agency reported that some of these fields were weathered and visibly dusty and that fields that are old, that are used frequently, and that are exposed to the weather can break down into dust as the turf fibers become worn and weathered. These findings raised concerns about potentially high lead levels in artificial turf used in other locations including fields and playgrounds elsewhere in the state and across the country.

The NJDHSS has asked the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to investigate this potential problem and the CDC and ATSDR are currently waiting for information from the CPSC to help guide future public health recommendations and actions.

The CDC says it currently does not know how much lead the body might absorb from artificial turf fields, but warns that if enough lead is absorbed it can cause harm to neurological development. The CDC says additional tests are being performed by the NJDHSS to help understand the absorption of lead from such fields.

In general, children less than 6 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. Children also absorb lead more easily. Children's developing nervous systems are also more susceptible to the adverse health effects of lead including developmental delay and behavioral problems.

The CDC emphasized that although turf testing has been limited to the state of New Jersey, no cases of elevated blood lead levels in children have been linked to artificial turf on athletic fields in New Jersey or elsewhere.  Concerned parents should talk to their child's pediatrician about potential and known sources of lead in their children'€™s environment and about whether their children should have a blood lead test. This is a simple test that is paid for by most private insurers and by Medicaid.  Although the greatest source of lead poisoning is from the ingestion of lead paint chips and dust, children are exposed to lead from many stealthy sources, including their toys, their jewelry, and even possibly their vinyl lunch boxes. Since lead accumulates in the body, we think it's important to eliminate all sources of exposure to the neurotoxin.

Taking precautions
At this time, the CDC says it does not yet fully understand the potential extent of lead exposure from worn artificial turf. Until it does, the agency says that some precautions can be taken to minimize any potential risk.

For example, field managers should consider implementing dust-suppression measures. And to protect the public, in particular young children, field managers should consider posting signs indicating that:

  • After playing on the field, individuals are encouraged to perform aggressive hand and body washing 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.
  • Avoid contaminating drinking containers with dust and fibers from the field. When not drinking, close them and keep them in a bag, cooler, or other covered container on the side of the field.

In addition, the CDC has also issued these recommendations for turf field owners and/or managers:

  • Test turf that has fibers that are abraded, faded or broken, contains visible dust, and that is made from nylon or nylon-blend fibers.
  • If the dust contains more than 400 ppm lead, do not allow turf access to children under the age of 6 years.
  • If access is restricted, care should be taken to ensure that alternative sites contain lead levels less than 400 ppm.
  • Do not test turf made from polyethylene-only fibers. This recommendation is based on currently available data.
  • Do not test turf made from nylon or nylon blends that is not worn and does not contain visible dust. But these fields should be routinely monitored for wear and dust generation.
  • Replace fields as soon as practicable if worn and dusty, as a precautionary measure.

Additional Information


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