Lead levels in children has been an issue since old paint had a lead base and children were ingesting lead by eating paint chips. Many lawsuits developed because these children sustained brain damage and learning disabilities. These lawsuits forced the paint industry to stop using lead in the paint. In the older tenements, the old lead paint was not painted over or removed and landlords became responsible for personal injuries, brain damage and learning disabilities.

The lead problem has been reintroduced in artificial turf fields. This issue was taken up in USA Today – The Journal News on March 16, 2015 in an article by Thomas Frank. The article is entitled “USA Today Investigation High lead levels at play fields ignored”. The US has more than 11, 000 artificial turf fields which can cost $1 million each to replace. Lead levels have been found high enough to potentially harm children and these fields have become a dangerous luxury. The article points out thousands of schools have artificial turf in playgrounds and daycare centers which can affect children. Yet, two Federal Agencies continue to promote the surfacing as safe, largely overlooking the testing of young children and possible harm of ingesting lead and turf materials. Yet, the Federal Government has encouraged their use despite doing limited research on their safety.

Lead is a well known child hazard that overtime can cause lost intelligence, developmental delays and damage to organs and the nervous system. Consumer Product Safety Commission, a Federal agency (charged with protecting children from lead) has promoted turf and rubber fields for seven years. Their website headline declared “OK to install, OK to play on”. Young children are not at risk for exposure to lead in fields even though the Commission found potential hazardous lead levels in some turf fibers and did not test any rubber crumbs which are made from recycled tires that contain 30 hazardous substances including lead.

The Environmental Protection Agency has promoted the use of rubber crumbs on athletic fields and playground surfaces since 1995 as a use for recycled car and truck tires. They now say more testing needs to be done yet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists artificial turf as one of seven sources of children’s lead exposure. The CDC in 2008 recommended communities test areas with turf fibers made from nylon and bar young children younger than 6 years of age from the area if the levels of lead exceeded Federal limits for lead in soil in children play areas. At least 10 studies since 2007 including those by Safety Commissions and the EPA have found potentially harmful levels of lead in turf fibers and in rubber crumbs per USA Today. Researchers flagged fibers and crumbs that exceeded the Federal hazard level of 400 parts per million (PPM) of lead in soil where children play. Scientists disputed the safety level established in 2000 and say it is too high and ignore recent research. Professor of Environmental and Occupational Medicine at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School states “every turf field has to be analyzed in detail to make sure it doesn’t have a problem”.

The Los Angeles School District in 2008 tested turf and rubber play area in preschools. It used 60 PPM as a safety level. Two play areas showed lead in the low 60’s. The school district removed the turf and rubber surface from all 54 preschool’s artificial turfs. A Nevada day care had 8,800 PPM lead, 22 times the Federal soil hazard levels in a 2010 study. Turf and rubber fields contain about 200,000 pounds of rubber crumbs made from thousands of former car and truck tires.

In 2009, an EPA study said that 90% of the lead in rubber crumbs tested “tightly bound” to the rubber and “unavailable for absorption”. This absorption finding was contradicted by a 2008 study in The Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology which found crumbs “highly bioaccessible”. In California, after health advocates measured high lead levels in artificial turf at schools and public areas in 2008, the State Attorney General sued manufacturers which agreed to stop using lead based pigments in turf. Manufacturers began using only lead free pigments by the end of 2009. Turf companies say turf field last 10 – 15 years. In 2009, before manufacturers phased out lead pigments, the U.S. had approximately 4,500 turf fields, all of which should be tested for lead levels.

Federal regulators focused on health effects of turf and rubber field in 2008, a decade after these fields were installed. The EPA had been promoting the use of rubber crumbs since early 1990’s as a way to recycle millions of discarded automobile ties. A 2008 memo by the Denver Office of EPA noted potential harms and inadequacy of research. The Safety Commission of the EPA launched a probe in 2008 after New Jersey Health officials found high levels of lead in three artificial turf athletic fields and told the Commission that more than 90% of the lead could be absorbed into a human bloodstream. A Commission turf study showed two fibers would release potentially harmful amounts of lead into a child’s bloodstream. The test showed 9.9 micrograms and 6.6 micrograms of lead into a child’s bloodstream. The FDA says children should ingest no more than 6 micrograms of lead a day from all sources of food and nonfood.

The verdict is still out there but for sure further testing of fields or playgrounds built before 2008 must be tested for lead levels. If your child 6 years of age or younger suffers from high lead levels in their bloodstream, further testing of the child’s intelligence developmental delays and damage to organs or their nervous systems must be done. And if it is found that you child has been injured due to high lead levels in their bloodstream, call the law firm of Dominick J. Robustelli & Associates, PLLC at (914) 288-0800.

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