LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - AstroTurf LLC, a leading maker of artificial grass for athletic fields, has agreed to a stringent new lead-safety standard in California that virtually eliminates traces of the hazardous metal from its products.
The standard was adopted under a settlement of a lawsuit brought by the state and local authorities after the nonprofit Center for Environmental Health reported finding high lead levels in the artificial turf made by dozens of manufacturers.
AstroTurf, a division of privately held Textile Management Associates in Dalton, Georgia, was one of six companies targeted by the litigation and the first to negotiate a settlement.
Health experts have raised concerns about health risks to children from exposure to lead in synthetic grass on ball fields and playgrounds.
They say youngsters can pick up lead that wipes off the turf onto their hands and is ingested from hand-to-mouth contact. Exposure also occurs when aging turf breaks down and releases lead-tainted dust that is breathed in or swallowed.
Lead is a neurotoxin that can cause brain and nerve damage, learning disorders, hearing problems and other ailments.
“This agreement is the first of its kind and will help make playgrounds and ball fields safe for our children,” state Attorney General Jerry Brown said in a statement.
The settlement limits the amount of led in AstroTurf products sold in California to 50 parts per million starting in June 2010 — half the level in voluntary nationwide guidelines set last year by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Artificial turf samples tested by the Center for Environmental Health found lead concentrations as high as 10,000 parts per million, spokesman Charles Margulis said.
The new California standard “will be a de facto national settlement because AstroTurf won’t make a separate line (of products) for the rest of the country,” Margulis said, adding that rival companies would likely follow suit.
AstroTurf spokesman Lou Ziebold said his company began reformulating its products to reduce lead content to negligible levels in May 2008, though Margulis noted this was voluntary and came after the company had come under scrutiny.
Ziebold denied AstroTurf products ever posed a health hazard, saying lead in the fibers remain embedded in the material. “When you touch it, it doesn’t come out,” he said.
Still, he said, the company would “be crazy” not to abide by California’s more stringent requirements.
Once the pioneering brand of artificial turf and long the U.S. leader in market share, AstroTurf has fallen to No. 2 or 3 nationally in recent years, with a relatively tiny presence in California. Ziebold said the company has the equivalent of just two football fields of its product installed statewide but is seeking to expand in California.
Originally a product of agribusiness giant Monsanto, AstroTurf became part of the national lexicon when it was installed in the Houston Astrodome stadium in 1966.
Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Bill Trott