Recent news reports about the possible existence of lead in some types of artificial turf fibers and their potential danger to the public has prompted a response by leading industry manufacturers.
Mis-Leading Press & Media Stories
Throw Synthetic Turf Under the Bus
This week’s news stories would have you believe that ALL artificial turf fibers MIGHT have dangerous levels of lead in them and that sports fields are being investigated by the hundreds – simply NOT True.
It all started with one, very unique school campus and its sports field that also happens to be located adjacent to a scrap metal facility in the city of Newark, New Jersey, USA.
“The New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services (NJDHSS) and the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry/National Center for Environmental Health (ATSDR/NCEH) were investigating a contaminated scrap metal facility in the city of Newark, NJ. One of the contaminants at the facility was lead.
The facility is next to an athletic field. At the time of the investigation the NJDHSS and ATSDR/NCEH saw children playing on the athletic field. Because lead is hazardous to young children the NJDHSS collected samples from the athletic field to find out if lead from the scrap metal facility was migrating to the field. The samples were tested in a laboratory, which found that there were high levels of lead in the dust.”
An important quote that the media failed to mention follows …
New Jersey DHSS Artificial Turf Fiber Lead Tests Conclude:
“Available Evidence Suggests That There Are No
Acute Health Risks Due to Use of Artificial Turf Fields, and Risks Due to Chronic and Repeated Exposure are Unlikely”
For those interested in understanding the background story that is behind current media reports and correcting the mis-information that these stories are generating, we recommend reading the entire press release by visiting the New Jersey (USA) DHSS site. http://www.nj.gov/health/artificialturf
The great news is that the New Jersey field has been properly and effectively cleared of all sources and remains of the hazardous materials found across the entire school and neighboring sites.
A significant investment was made by local, state officials and the synthetic turf field installation company and synthetic turf manufacturer to insure the entire project went safely and smoothly. The school now has a new synthetic turf surface; ready for spring and summer activities for the school and community, at large.
Where is synthetic turf manufactured?
Tufting mills that manufacture and deliver finished goods of synthetic turf to North American markets are located in either Georgia or Texas. Half of the manufacturing mills are now turn-key systems that produce their own yarn fibers, tuft their materials and apply a coat of secondary backing materials, under one company. According to Carpet.org, there may be 125 to 130 carpet mills located throughout the US; with recent mergers and aquisitions, less than 10% of these mills focus exclusively on the specialize niche market of synthetic turf.
This close-knit group of US manufacturers produce and deliver to sports field system integrators approximately 150 million square feet of finished synthetic turf materials per year.
With rumors of 1000 field contracts being in-hand for the 2008 building season, an average sized sport field at approximately 88,000 SF each, would consume the majority of that annual volume while landscape and leisure sports uses may represent between 40 to 50 million square feet of additional artificial grass, sown across the nation, at least, this year!
Contract manufacturing is common in the carpet industry – companies like Shaw and Monsanto contract with local mills to manufacture special branded carpet styles and then generally contract with another company that will add the secondary backing to the surface materials (coating the reverse side of the turf, “locking” the tufted stitches into the primary backing materials).
Much like Shaw and Monsanto, artificial grass companies across the US and Canada purchase finished goods, integrate them with other, critical job components to meet the specifications of the project they are building and market these systems under a variety of brand name solutions.
Often called “contract manufacturers”, these brand name solutions companies distribute their systems through channels of installers, builders and suppliers, who manage and supply local and regional markets. It is common for them to pass on yarn and tufting manufacturer’s product and workmanship warranties for their surface materials, to the enduser, directly.
“I would guess that roughly 95% of the synthetic turf that is laid down in North America was produced in the USA, by US workers and shipped over US roads, using US companies, generating US revenues, profits, taxes and jobs;”
states Annie Costa, Executive Director of ASGi.
“Manufacturing Standards in the US are exceptional; any company that meets or exceeds ISO 9001 Standards should be viewed as a quality manufacturer, in my book.
“What we should be concerned with is inferior materials being brought into the marketplace – manufactured in the US or abroad.
” In my opinion, inferior goods enter a market place due to the illusion of lower cost, not the quality of the materials purchased and even though it seems like the way to go for folks trying to stretch a dime into a dollar – in the end, inferior materials, used in the synthetic turf market, always cost double.”
The most commonly used fibers for artificial turf for landscape and leisure sports are polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP) along with two formulations of nylon (PA 6 & 6,6); all part of the olefin-family of fiber materials, which include Kevlar(R) and other finished goods and fabrics used for airplane seat coverings to safety clothing for police, fire and military applications.
Yarn manufacturers of polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP) and nylon (PA) fiber materials are located in Tennessee, Texas and Georgia and most of the raw components and some of the finished yarn and backing materials are imported from abroad.
The question that the media has stirred up is: “Could some or all of these products’ yarn fibers [or infill materials] contain lead or other contaminants that could harm us?”
Most, not all, nylon, polyethylene and polypropylene fibers are created from a basic olefin “plastic”. To extend the life of the color in these fiber materials, a water-insoluable chemical compound called lead chromate is used in the fiber formula; it becomes locked (encapsulated) into the structure of the fibers of the finished yarn which prevents it from being absorbed by the body or released into the environment. That is why consumer test kits to test toys and paint for high levels of lead may not detect any lead on the surfaces of artificial turf fibers and infill materials, regardless of their age and condition. There is no “lead” in the fibers to leach out onto the surfaces and be detected by the test swabs .
What does “Lead-free” mean?
We, humans, are surrounded by sources and forms of lead, every day. What makes lead-free gas, lead free, even though it does contain lead? The answer is that the lead that is there is in such small (trace) amounts that it is well below measurable standards at which any one would be concerned; for humans, pets or our environment. EPA, OSHA, CDC
Lead occurs naturally, in soils, rocks and in water; and “un-naturally” in the same soil, water and in our air, due to pollution and of course where, in US houses and buildings older than the mid to late 1970s, lead-based paints and inferior vinyl blinds were used to decorate.
Bio-Availability – the ability to be absorbed
The important difference between the lead in paints or mini-blinds and the lead chromate, in artificial turf fibers is it’s “bio-availability” or its ability to be available to be absorbed through the skin or inhaled, as dust or vapors.
The danger of lead in paints, blinds and especially toys, is that it can be extremely “bio-available” and can be absorbed easily through the skin, and when the materials age, they can cause “dust” and can also be inhaled. The high bio-availability and the type of lead in paint, toys and vinyl is also why consumer lead test kits can be used, successfully, to determine if a suspect product could be of danger and should be removed from the market.
There is plenty of existing science* which proves, beyond a doubt, that lead chromate, used in the manufacture of PE, PP and PA fibers, is NOT bio-available through regular use; even under extreme conditions.
In efforts to continue to provide clarity and science to back up safety and use claims, master batch chemists and yarn manufacturers, members of STC, are collaborating on industry efforts to publish additional research data on bio-availability of lead chromate and the creation of a national equivilent to the DIN standards, for artificial turf fibers.
Are You Really Concerned?
There’sa simple way to handle that concern – test the materials, yourself.
During recent concerns over lead in the paint and plastics of foreign manufactured toys a short time ago, consumers could handle their doubts about possible dangers in several ways. Home testing kits and reasonably priced professional lab services have always been widely available; both then and now.
ASGi decide to take the challenge, head on, and purchased several home test kits from Homax Products (3rd
party accuracy reports here) that are commonly used to test for lead in paint and plastics for toys and other consumer products; including other types of natural and synthetic surfaces and dirt.
ASGi tested popular brands of artificial turf materials using polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP) artificial turf fibers used by professional artificial grass installers, branded solutions vendors and construction wholesale supply companies, all across North America.
Brands included finished materials from tufting manufacturers located in Georgia, Texas and China.
These test kits, widely available from any hardware store, can detect high levels of leachable lead that exceed (US) government regulations; use of these types of kits doesn’t replace a professional inspection.*
The most common way someone would be exposed to lead when using an artificial turf surface is to absorb it through their skin or breath it in as dust (common with today’s polluted air).
Typical home lead tests are a “presumptive” test for lead, to detect whether there is a dangerous level leaching from the surfaces of the materials you are testing. If the test stick turns pink or red, there is lead, in excess of US regulations for safety guidelines.
ASGi chose the Homax Lead Check ($8) created to help consumers identify accessible lead in toys, ceramic dish ware and vinyl or plastic. The kit consists of straw-shaped swab, with an inner chamber that contains an active testing ingredient which, when properly used, will turn pink when it detects lead.
ASGi staff followed the manufacturer’s instructions and applied the tests to nylon fibers used as “thatch” mixed in with polyethylene and polypropylene surface fibers and a popular infill material known as SBR crumb rubber (the source of the rubber crumb sample is a well known California tire recycling company).
Lead Kit Tests Conclude NO TROUBLE FOUND – On 12 Popular Artificial Turf Surfaces!
Not one of the 12 artificial turf surface material samples or either of the two SBR crumb rubber samples tested positive for surface lead contamination (to a degree that would be considered hazardous by US Guidelines, set for toys and other home goods, such as paint).
To insure that there was the least possible risk of false positives, staff members tested each material, using new swabs, twice.
Consumer Lead Test Kits
“[Lead test] kits are not a be-all, end-all,” said Dave
LaChance, who created the Lead Inspector kit, [speaking
of the use for testing toys] “but the [kits] can empower the
consumer and help parents [and others]
rule out a [possible problem] product.”
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