Lead found in Lions’ Stadium

Lions’ Stadium was closed Monday afternoon by recommendation of the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) after it found high levels of lead in the stadium’s nylon-fiber turf.

The stadium will remain closed until at least May, according to Matthew Golden, executive director of Public Affairs.

DHSS performed a random, voluntary sampling of 12 municipal and college fields across Mercer, Bergen, Hudson and Morris counties during March, following the discovery of lead contamination in an artificial recreational field in the Ironbound section of Newark in fall 2007.

Lions’ Stadium, along with Frank Sinatra Park in Hoboken, was found to be one of two sites that also contain elevated lead levels.

DHSS made public Monday that it found lead concentrations of 4,100 milligrams of lead per kilogram of fiber in Lions’ Stadium. While there are no national guidelines for safe lead levels in artificial fields, these levels were more than 10 times greater than the New Jersey Environmental Protection Agency’s 400 milligrams of lead per kilogram residential soil cleanup criteria.

According to Eddy Bresnitz, deputy commissioner and state epidemiologist for DHSS, his staff is looking into dyes used in the manufacturing of nylon-fiber turf as a cause for the lead contamination. The DHSS is investigating dust contamination on the turf in addition to the fiber contamination.

“At this point, we’ve only performed a limited study just of the fibers found on the fields,” Bresnitz said. “Of course, we’re going to perform further laboratory tests, including a sampling of the dust.”

According to a DHSS press release, it is unknown at this time whether the lead found in Lions’ Stadium’s turf can be absorbed into the body as readily as that found in lead paint. Specialized tests are pending and expected by early May, at which point further action for the stadium will be determined.

“Based on the limited information we have at this time, the (d)epartment’s assessment is that there is a very low risk of exposure,” the press release read. “The risk of exposure can be reduced by proper maintenance of the field, including wetting down the field. Users of the field should wash properly and ensure that their clothing is washed after play.”

According to Bresnitz, children under the age of 6 are at the greatest risk for adverse affects due to lead exposure, as their brains are still developing.

The closure of Lions’ Stadium has thrown many campus events, including club and intramural sporting events and Commencement 2008, into limbo.

“The College is currently evaluating options of rescheduling or relocating some events as well as future use of Lions’ Stadium,” Matthew Golden, executive director of Public Affairs, said.

“We’re concerned,” Debbie Simpson, intramural coordinator, said. “It’s upsetting because they’re taking a facility that is used so much and affects so many people.”

According to Simpson, the College has contacted the Ewing Township Recreation Department for advisement.

“They have been very good to us in the past,” Simpson said.

The College’s soccer field was also tested as part of the sampling, but was not found to contain lead above lab reporting standards.

This came as good news to the lacrosse team, which will use the soccer field for the rest of its season.

“I was very concerned when I first heard of the news, but we have received an OK to have lacrosse lines painted on the turf within the soccer stadium,” Sharon Pfluger, coach of College lacrosse team, said via e-mail, though the lead contamination forced the cancellation of Tuesay’s home game.

The DHSS has requested aid from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) for further national investigation of the turf used in recreational, residential and commercial nylon-fiber fields, according to a letter to CPSC Executive Director Patricia Semple, dated April 11.

“This is a potential consumer safety issue with national implications, since these turf products are widely distributed,” Heather Howard, DHSS commissioner, said. “While we are doing additional testing on the samples, we recommend that field managers exercise caution to protect against potential exposures for those who use the fields where high lead levels were found.”

According to Bresnitz, the manufacturer of the turf, AstroTurf LLC, was notified of the results after the first test findings from Newark in 2007.

The DHSS praised the College’s cooperation during the investigation.

“Both Hoboken Mayor David Roberts and (the College) have been extremely cooperative,” the DHSS press release read, “and will continue to work with the (d)epartment on the best course of action.”

-Additional reporting by
Allison Singer, Sports Editor
and Kristen Lord, Nation & World Editor