Area schools check artificial turf for lead after N.J. finds high levels

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

Reports of high levels of lead on two athletic fields with artificial turf in New Jersey have some Columbus-area athletics directors scrambling to examine their turf. The New Jersey Health Department discovered high levels of lead on a Hoboken park's turf while testing for factory contamination. Health officials checked 11 other area fields and found one more with lead levels eight to 10 times the state's maximum for soil. Both fields have been closed, and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is investigating.

The lead is in the pigment used to color the fake grass, and officials are concerned that children could swallow or inhale the fibers. Lead poisoning in children can lower IQ and cause behavioral problems.

At least 11 high schools in Franklin County have a synthetic-turf football field. Gahanna-Jefferson, Grandview Heights, Hamilton Township, St. Charles and Grove City Christian all installed it last year, joining all three Dublin high schools, Bexley, Upper Arlington and St. Francis DeSales. Soccer, lacrosse and field hockey are among other sports played on the fields.

The two worrisome New Jersey fields are nylon-based turf made by AstroTurf and installed in 1999 and 2003. Most Franklin County schools have polyethylene turf, which New Jersey officials found didn't have lead problems.

Still, Tony Pusateri, athletics director at Dublin Coffman High School, said he's concerned. "Oh, my gosh, yes," he said. "Obviously, we have a lot of kids who play on it. Kids across the state play on it. And my daughter plays on it." He said the turf at all three Dublin high school fields is the polyethylene variety with the trade name AstroPlay.

A study last fall by the Ohio High School Athletic Association found that 66 of the 830 high schools in Ohio had fake turf.

Bob Goldring, an assistant commissioner, said he's monitoring the turf testing but hasn't had calls from worried athletes. "It makes you wonder how much exposure you have to have to have it be a problem," he said.

The New Jersey Health Department is trying to find out, spokesman Donna Leusner said. It's conducting "bioavailability" testing on the suspect turf to find out if the lead can leach out of the fibers. Dr. Eddy Bresnitz, New Jersey's state epidemiologist, said, "We do not know the health impact, if any, that may result in people who used these fields."