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Artificial Turf, Lead & SBR Crumb Rubber Issues: “Playing Catch-up on Synthetic Fields”

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Playing Catch-up on Synthetic Fields
May 13, 2008
Posted by Pam Sherratt & John R. Street

Since the start of maintaining grass for amenity purposes, turf managers and scientists alike have dealt with issues concerning the effect that turf management has on human health and the environment. The use and fate of chemicals, fertilizers and water are all examples of topics that have been scrutinized and regulated over the last seventy years.

Unfortunately, the turfgrass science industry has done very little in the area of synthetic turf research. What research has been done has tended to be directed towards the “playability” of synthetic systems, such as hardness, traction and surface temperatures.

The human and environmental impacts are areas that have not been researched very well, mainly through lack of funding. In essence, we are at a juncture here where the recent moratoriums on field installations and negative press coming out of NJ is yielding far more questions than answers.

While we know that tests on the old nylon synthetic fibers in NJ showed total lead levels of close to 4,000 ppm, recent testing on newer fields have yielded much lower numbers. Knowing the ppm number may be helpful but what does it actually mean?

Is “total” lead the best way of testing for lead in synthetic turf, or should it be done by the “wipe” test (method used to determine lead levels in toys), whereby accessible or available lead levels are tested?

Also, how often should fields be tested to determine if lead levels change over time?

At this point it would appear that total lead (ppm) numbers are the only numbers being released. The New Jersey Dept of Health and Senior Services described their criteria of 400 ppm total lead as such: “There are no national guidelines for lead in artificial turf. In the absence of guidance, the DHSS is using the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s residential soil cleanup criteria for lead of 400 mg/Kg”.

Other sources have offered up different criteria, but also based on soils. For example, in the Ohioline factsheet “Lead Contamination in the Garden” the low lead level is stated as 500 ppm and very high level at > 3,000.

The EPA also has regulations based on soils. In particular they address soils in and around children’s play areas. The acceptable level they have chosen is 1,200 ppm.

The main regulator of consumer product safety in the US is the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC). They met with representatives of the synthetic turf industry yesterday to address some of these issues.

While they have also not yet determined which tests to use to check for lead in artificial turf, they do have previous test information: Regulations and Guidance about Lead in Consumer Products

In summary, the lack of test results and absence of industry standards means that we are a long way off drawing any kind of conclusions about lead levels in synthetic fibers.

Comprehensive tests on both the fibers and infill material, together with standards set by the governing authorities is something that probably should have happened several years ago, before many of the fields were installed. So right now the industry is playing “catch up”.

Posted by Pam Sherratt & John R. Street

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