Soccer players practice on the FieldTurf at U.S. Cellular Community Park in Medford on Tuesday. - Jamie Lusch

FieldTurf rep assures Medford fields safe

Sportech representative Steve Coury understands why anyone would be concerned with lead levels in any product, but he insists people shouldn't be concerned for the safety of those using the FieldTurf facilities at Spiegelberg Stadium and U.S. Cellular Community Park in Medford and Central Point's Dutch Meyer Field.

Coury's Tigard-based company installed the artificial turf at those three local sites within the past four years, as well as close to 50 others in Oregon alone the past 10 years, and he said Monday night that the essential makeup of FieldTurf has been tested and proven safe by numerous prominent organizations.

At the core of his conclusion is the fact that FieldTurf utilizes a matrix of polyethylene fibers (giving a more grass-blade appearance) and not the nylon turf fibers (old style, carpet-like fibers) that have come under scrutiny recently by the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services.

"I don't blame them, putting these tests out there is fine," said Coury. "But I think that they've put a scare into this thing that really isn't necessary."

Even in the NJDHSS testing, the conclusion was that there are "very low to undetectable levels of lead" in the polyethylene fibers used by FieldTurf.

As Coury explains, there is a low level of encapsulated iron within the fiber matrix of the synthetic turf in order to make it green and hold its color in sunlight, but it's virtually impossible for anyone to ingest.

"One huge thing in all the findings is the fact that the lead is encapsulated in the plastic," he said. "Even when it begins to wear and break down, the encapsulation stays in place. Experts agree that the encapsulation stays in the fiber matrix and are not available to be absorbed, inhaled or ingested by the human body."

Coury said the only way to release the iron in his product would be if the fibers were melted. Gradual wear and tear or intense weathering does nothing to the encapsulation.

"Even eating it isn't going to do anything," he added.

In findings released by FieldTurf Tarkett, according to calculations made by forensic toxicologist Dr. David Black, a 50-pound child would have to ingest over 100 pounds — or 10.8 square feet — of synthetic turf to be at risk of absorbing enough lead to equal the minimum threshold of elevated blood lead. The voluntary minimum standard used by the U.S. toy industry for migratory lead is 90 parts per million, with a government cap of 600 ppm for paint on children's toys.

"I know that's kind of putting it in stupid terms," Coury said of the anecdotal consumption of FieldTurf, "but when you're trying to understand it, that's the best way I know how."

Coury said the lumping of all artificial surfaces into one bunch, as well as a lack of federal standards set for testing, make it difficult to know exactly how concerned one should be about the synthetic turfs.

"They're trying to compare it to soil in a grass field, and that's not exactly the same thing," he said. "I guess testing it against toys gives you more of a perspective, but even that isn't the same."

"The bottom line with (any lead presence in FieldTurf) is it's completely contained," Coury added. "It's not like a grass field where I found lead. That lead is in the soil and it's out there for ingestion, whereas this lead (in FieldTurf) is contained in the fibers. It's in a vault and not going anywhere, whether it's an old field or new field or whatever. It's not leaching out and the human body can't take it in. That's what makes it safe."

FieldTurf starts out as recycled plastic pellets, transformed into lush, grasslike fibers. Worn out tires are recycled into cryogenic rubber crumbs, which are brushed in between these fibers, providing a unique and durable infill system. The environmental and economic impact can be great considering, unlike grass fields, there isn't a need to water or douse the surface with pesticides, fertilizers, herbicides, etc.

Also, maintaining a FieldTurf field produces no pollutants from lawn mowers or other equipment normally used to look after playing fields, and the durable surface can survive over 10 years of daily abuse from a myriad of uses.

"There's a lot of green issues that make it a great environmentally friendly product," said Coury.

Industry practices were altered in 2003 to ensure that even less lead is used in synthetic turfs. And while the federal Centers for Disease Control reported that the tests done in New Jersey found potentially hazardous lead levels on worn nylon and nylon-blend athletic fields, the CDC did not recommend testing artificial fields made from polyethylene (such as FieldTurf) or on nylon fields that are not visibly worn.

The CDC also stated that no cases of elevated blood lead levels in children have been linked to artificial turf. Lead can cause brain damage and other illnesses, particularly in children.

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 776-4488, or e-mail

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