Council Members Call on County to Test Artificial Turf Fields for Toxic Substances

Council Members Call on County to Test Artificial Turf Fields for Toxic Substances

Marc Elrich says he's concerned about lead in the fields and wants independent testing

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The indoor artificial turf field at Wheaton Regional Park

Montgomery Parks

Six Montgomery County Council members last week called on County Executive Ike Leggett to begin testing county-owned artificial turf fields for “at least” four substances they say are harmful to children and could cause cancer.

In a letter to Leggett, Council members Marc Elrich, Roger Berliner, Tom Hucker, George Leventhal, Nancy Navarro and Hans Riemer asked for independent testing of the fields’ blades, carpet backing and tire crumb infill for total lead content and the chemicals chromium, cadmium and phthalate.

It’s the council’s latest foray into the national discussion over the safety of artificial turf fields that use infill material such as rubber to mimic soil and plastic blades instead of natural grass.

Last year, the council passed a resolution pushing for only organic materials such as rice husk, coconut fiber and cork to be used in the fields—instead of crumb rubber material that contain chemicals many have said are carcinogenic.

Now, council members are concerned about lead in the fields.

During a committee meeting last week, Elrich referenced testimony in Annapolis earlier this month from a representative of artificial turf manufacturer FieldTurf in which the representative said lead is present in the company’s products.

State lawmakers are considering a bill that would require signs at the entrance to artificial turf fields warning users of the potential dangers.

“I don’t think anybody debates whether lead, even vaguely, should be near children,” Elrich said.

Six public high schools in the county—Richard Montgomery, Walter Johnson, Gaithersburg, Paint Branch, Thomas S. Wootton and Montgomery Blair—have artificial turf fields. Design work has begun for a seventh at Winston Churchill High School in Potomac and another is planned for Wheaton. Montgomery Parks also operates artificial turf fields.

Parents at Somerset Elementary School in Chevy Chase have raised more than $350,000 for an artificial turf field that supporters say is needed because the existing grass field is poorly maintained.

Lyric Winik, a parent involved in the campaign, said Tuesday that only organic infill material will be used in the field. Pending permitting approval from the county and a second round of approvals from the Board of Education and County Council, installation of the field at Somerset could start as early as this summer, Winik said.

The letter to Leggett from council members cites a 2014 study from Rutgers University researchers that “found lead (and other toxic substances) in both the plastic carpet fibers and tire crumb infill of even new field materials.”

The letter stated: “We are writing to ask that you have the county-owned artificial turf fields tested at least for the toxic substances that are currently required to be regulated in children’s products. The [Environmental Protection Agency] and [Consumer Products Safety Commission] are currently deferring to states and localities for decisions on testing and enforcement. The plastic "blades" (all colors) and the carpet backing should be tested at least for total lead content, chromium, cadmium and phthalates. The tire-crumb infill should also be tested: each field needs many widely spaced samples because toxic substances (chemicals and heavy metals) may be present in high and low levels in different areas of the same field.”

A spokesperson for Montgomery Parks couldn’t be reached Tuesday morning. Patrick Lacefield, a spokesperson for Leggett, said he was looking into the county’s response to the testing request.

According to the Parents’ Coalition, a group that bills itself as a watchdog of Montgomery County Public Schools, Parks officials did test its artificial turf fields at Blair High School and Wheaton Regional Park in 2013.

The group recently republished a February 2013 email from Mike Riley, now the director of Montgomery Parks, in which Riley reported the lead content in turf fibers at the Blair High School field was less than could be measured.

Riley also wrote the maximum lead content found in the Wheaton Regional Park field was 8.88 milligrams per every kilogram, “far less than the threshold of 400 [milligrams per every kilogram] established by [Maryland Department of Environment], and less than found in typical eastern U.S. surface soils.”

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