Am I “Crazy” for wondrin’ if lead in artificial turf is a bad thing, or have I just been listening to too much Willie Nelson lately?
Some of the most hallowed ground in Texas — the artificial turf on its high school football fields — may also be toxic.
Fields in two of the state’s best-known high school stadiums, including the one made famous by the book and movie “Friday Night Lights,” have lead levels far exceeding the Environmental Protection Agency’s standard for soil, according to independent tests done within the last month.
The results, obtained by The Associated Press, are the first public indication that Texas’ prized high school stadiums have become part of the national controversy over whether artificial turf contains unsafe levels of lead.
Testing commissioned by the Ector County school district on the turf at Odessa’s Ratliff Stadium found lead at roughly 14 times the EPA standard. Similar testing by the Birdville school district in the Fort Worth suburb of North Richland Hills discovered a lead level nearly 10 times the EPA standard at that district’s stadium, the Fine Arts/Athletics Complex.
While tests indicated that the top part of the turf that players have the most contact with was not terribly toxic, the lower portions of the faux grass had high lead levels. Water runoff from the Birdville field had lead levels twice the EPA’s drinking water standards, indicating that the lead was leaching into the environment — and perhaps, down the line, into groundwater.
In other states, schools that found lead levels much lower than what has been found in Texas were moved to actually shut down their facilities. In New Jersey, two fields with lead levels 8 to 10 times the EPA’s soil standard were closed this April. In California, a playground with levels just twice the EPA standard was closed down until the turf could be removed as hazardous waste. But here in Texas, despite even higher lead levels, school district officials seem unconcerned.
What is it with Texas? In a post last week on air toxics near schools, we learned that several Texas schools are surrounded by air pollution even worse than what has caused school closures in other states. Now we’re finding lead on school premises in concentrations much higher than what has caused other states to take real action, and school district officials aren’t even concerned. Do we just not believe in the health risks of toxic exposure? Do we not care about our kids? Or are football and industry just higher priorities than a few children with brain damage and cancer?