Lead “Unacceptably High” on Turf (Statesman Journal)
Beth Casper, Statesman Journal, August 28, 2008
Follow-up tests on the artificial
turf football field at West
School show "unacceptably high" levels
of lead, according to an early look at the results by state health officials.
"In all regards, these results
look high," said Ken Kauffman, an environmental health specialist in the
Public Health Division of the Oregon Department of Human Services. "On its
face, it doesn't look good at all."
Initial tests, conducted separately
in July for the Statesman Journal and for the Salem-Keizer
School District, revealed lead in the
turf at West Salem's football field. The
newspaper's tests found no lead in artificial turf fields at South
Salem and Sprague high schools.
Additional testing conducted at West Salem
High School for the
newspaper, called wipe testing, sought to determine how much lead might be
breaking down into dust or small particles. Wipe tests are designed to mimic
what happens when someone touches turf. The small particles could be ingested
by youths using the field.
The five wipe tests showed lead
levels that ranged from a high of 642.2 micrograms to a low of 168.8 micrograms.
For comparison, wipe tests described
in a federal Consumer Product Safety Commission report released in July found
up to 98.7 micrograms in a nine-year old field. West Salem's
field was installed in 2002.
Using wipe tests similar – but not
identical – to those performed for the Statesman Journal, the federal Consumer
Product Safety Commission found lead levels between 0 micrograms and 98.7
micrograms on 14 fields that were either new or up to nine years old, according
to the report. Commission officials calculated that someone could ingest 9.9
micrograms of lead per day on a field where the wipe test found 98.7 micrograms
Commission staffers recommend that
people ingest no more than 15 micrograms of lead a day in order to stay below
the federal blood lead level of concern, which is 10 micrograms per deciliter
A wipe test from the center of West Salem's football field found about seven times more
lead than the highest levels described in the CPSC report. Using the CPSC
calculations, the Statesman Journal determined that someone could ingest 64
micrograms of lead a day from that portion of West Salem's
In the end zone, the wipe test showed
301.8 micrograms, or a lead exposure of 31 micrograms a day. The white
lettering on the 30-yard line had 471.4 micrograms of lead, or a lead exposure
of 47 micrograms a day.
"It raises some serious
questions about that particular field," said Kauffman of Oregon's Public
The size of turf samples tested for
the Statesman Journal was 1-square-foot, or about twice the size of the samples
used in the CPSC tests. But even with calculations to compensate for that
difference, the lead exposure from West Salem's
field could be as high as 27.6 micrograms a day. In the end zone, the lead
exposure would be 13 micrograms per day.
It is difficult to make direct
comparisons because the wipe methods were slightly different, but West Salem's lead levels are high enough to warrant
concern, experts said
The Consumer Product Safety
Commission's report called artificial turf fields "safe" to play on.
The report has been criticized by
consumer groups, state public health officials and lead experts, who argue that
the commission sampled too few fields and used arbitrary methods to determine
Still, the federal report is the
public's best tool right now for understanding and calculating the risk posed
by lead in artificial turf fields.
What's being done
Meanwhile on Thursday, the state
Public Health Division released general recommendations to schools and parks
statewide about artificial turf. It stopped short of issuing specific
recommendations to the Salem-Keizer
School District until it
reviews the wipe test results and consults with the CPSC.
The Salem-Keizer School
District plans to conduct its own wipe tests
soon, said Jay Remy, spokesman for the district. District officials are
reviewing the health division's statewide memo to see if there are additional
steps they can take.
The state of California,
which has the strictest lead standard in the country, continues to investigate
the issue of lead in artificial turf and likely will take legal action next
week against turf manufacturers, said Dennis Ragen, California's deputy attorney general.
Caroline Cox, research director with
the Oakland-based Center for Environmental Health, said it is a difficult issue
for school districts when a turf field is found with lead. The Center for
Environmental Health, a nonprofit consumer watchdog, tested more than 150 turf
samples. That data spurred a lawsuit by the center against one manufacturer.
"If there is money to replace
the turf … that would clearly be the situation that would be most protective of
students' health," Cox said. "If it is absolutely a financial
impossibility, they should take steps to minimize exposure. Have everybody wash
hands really carefully after using the field and wash hands before getting a
drink from a water bottle. … I would not allow young children to use it. The
best thing would be to replace the turf with turf that doesn't contain
What it means
There is no state or federal standard
for lead in artificial turf.
Since April, when New Jersey officials asked the CPSC to
investigate lead in artificial turf, public health experts have been trying to
determine the proper protocol for testing artificial turf, analyzing potential
lead exposure and issuing recommendations.
The Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention has already issued some recommendations based on lead hazards and
risks. In a June 18 public health advisory, the agency said "Field
managers should consider implementing dust-suppression measures."
It also recommended specific actions
if young children use the fields – actions such as hand washing and avoiding
eating on the field.
Even though the Consumer Product
Safety Commission's evaluation is based on the assumption that exposure of 15
micrograms of lead per day is acceptable for children, major public health
agencies have said that there is no safe level of lead exposure for children.
Lead has been linked to learning
problems, hyperactivity, deficits in fine motor function, hand-eye coordination
and reaction time. Lead has been linked to lower IQ.
In general, children younger than 6
are more likely to be affected by lead than adults because children absorb lead
more easily and children's developing nervous systems are more susceptible to
the effects of lead, according to the CDC. The CDC has long recommended the
elimination of all nonessential uses of lead.
The California standard, at one-half microgram
lead exposure per day, is 30 times more protective than the Consumer Product
Safety Commission's standard.
"The thing about lead is that it
takes so long for your body to get rid of it – it is the cumulative
exposure," said Cox, research director with the Center for Environmental
Health, a nonprofit consumer watchdog. "You need to minimize your exposure
wherever you can."
Lead can be stored in bones for
almost 30 years. It can leach out of bones and into the blood when the bones
release calcium – during breast-feeding, pregnancy, menopause and old age, Cox