DC Pushes Artficial Turf, Despite Lead Fears

In New York City, a battle is being waged over the role of artificial turf on sports fields in the city’s public parks. Last December, a park in East Harlem was shut down after examiners detected elevated levels of lead coming from the artificial turf on the park’s soccer field. Some samples from the soccer field showed lead levels four times greater than the federal limits for playground soil.

Two members of the City Council and several activists were disturbed by these test results and have requested a moratorium on the use of artificial turf in New York’s public sports fields while further testing is completed. Other officials, like Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, argue that only a few parks reported elevated lead levels, which may be the result of coal processing that took place on the land years ago.

How does this story affect DC? In September of 2007, the Washington Post published a story titled “For Schools, Artificial Turf Grows in Popularity.” In the story, high school officials from Fairfax, Anne Arundel, Montgomery, Loudoun, Arlington, Frederick and Charles county had either approved artificial turf on sports fields or were considering it. At the time, these officials viewed cost as the only drawback of the artificial turf.

In April, 2008, the Post published a new story titled, “U.S. Investigates Artificial Turf’s Lead Levels.” In the story, an official from the McLean Youth Soccer league, Al Stephenson, said fears over lead in artificial turf would delay the league’s push to install artificial turf on several of their soccer fields.

The issue of lead in artificial turf appears to be related to the use of recycled tires in the turf. Tires are broken down and converted to rubber pellets, which are then formed into the spongy vast sports fields many enjoy because of safety and maintenance ease. Unfortunatley, the crushed tire bits rub off easily on people’s skin and clothing, allowing users to carry the lead laden tire pieces on their body and into their homes.

As of September, 2008, the McClean Youth Soccer League was moving forward with plans to install more artificial turf soccer fields. An opening ceremony was held for two such fields on September 17th. The League has tried to calm fears over lead contamination with a public statement that says…”Based on information received from the (synthetic turf) industry we continue to believe that fields in Fairfax County do not pose any hazard to the public.”

To read more about the artificial turf battle in New York, read the New York Times story on their website by clicking HERE .

To read the Washington Post story on lead investigations for artificial turf fields on their website, click HERE .


  1. What ever happened to real grass? When I was a child there was nothing better than laying in the soft green grass in the sun and looking at the art in the clouds. Do we really need to take that away from our children? Spend a little money, buy some grass seed and grow a real lawn.

  2. Artificial grass is eco-friendly and very safe for the environment. An artificial turf can be a real savior when the environment is particularly hostile to natural grass. An arid environment is a surface devoid of water or where the weather conditions are unviable for growing natural grass. This arid surface is perfect for artificial synthic grass.