Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Dangerous Astroturf

No demonstrated harm but panic needs no proof. As always, the toxicity is in the dose and official standards are already super-cautious. Note that there is no mention of the soil bacteria in natural fields that can cause illness. At least we KNOW those threats exist, unlike the speculation below

For two decades, state public health officials have waged a massive campaign to eliminate children's exposure to lead, yet some specialists are concerned that the toxic element may have found its way into schools in the form of artificial turf fields. While industry officials maintain the fields are safe, the Globe recently commissioned tests of artificial grass at several city and suburban high schools in Massachusetts and found varying amounts of lead in the artificial surfaces.

The fake green grass rolled out in the fall at Concord-Carlisle High School's football field at a cost of $3.8 million tested positive for lead in the Globe's investigation, as did Boston's Saunders Stadium, Lincoln Sudbury High School, and Charlestown High School. The football field at Concord-Carlisle High contained nearly 300 parts per million lead in the Globe-commissioned test. The US Environmental Protection Agency's standard for bare soil in children's play areas is a maximum of 400 parts per million, though the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has long recommended "the elimination of all nonessential uses of lead" because of the potential health hazards it poses.

Stanley Green, the chief executive of Sprinturf, which manufactured the field, said tests his company commissioned on the Concord-Carlisle field by a lab in Tennessee showed it contained .05 parts per million lead, a much lower level than the Globe-commissioned test. "We've never had anything in the field that has caused harm to anyone," Green said. "There's never been any incident of anyone getting sick or having ill effects associated with artificial turf fields."

With the increasing popularity of the fields in the professional and collegiate ranks, cities and towns across the state have been building artificial turf fields at a rapid clip, because they are durable and can accommodate nearly year-round athletic activity. But some communities are concerned about the possible health problems the fields pose.

Constructed of plastic and a simulated dirt made of discarded old tires (as many as 10,000 in a single field), some fields contain lead in levels higher than communities anticipated. An artificial turf field in East Harlem, N.Y., was slated for removal last month when local health officials determined it contained 500 parts per million lead. "There's no safe level of lead; let's be clear on that," said Don Mays, senior director of product safety at the Consumer's Union, publisher of Consumer Reports. The Consumer's Union and the CDC called for additional testing of artificial turf fields after lead levels at two older fields in New Jersey forced their closure in the summer. "What we've seen is lead creeping back into products we assumed didn't have lead in them," Mays said, "like vinyl products and playing fields."

Problems with lead surfaced last year, when public health workers measuring run-off at a landfill in New Jersey found high lead concentrations in two playing fields nearby. Local officials closed both out of fear that athletes were swallowing or inhaling lead dust emanating from worn plastic grass. The CDC issued an official health advisory in June saying the "potentially unhealthy levels of lead dust" found on the New Jersey fields raised concern and warranted additional testing. The Consumers Union has also advocated for additional testing of the fields.

For years, the CDC has called lead dust one of the biggest known health hazards to children and has funneled millions into reducing it in the environment. The agency has said that age, weathering, exposure to sunlight, and wear and tear can cause dust to form on older or well-used fields. "At this time, CDC does not yet understand the potential risks associated with exposure to dust from worn artificial turf," the CDC advisory said. People playing on dusty turf fields should undertake "aggressive hand and body washing" for at least 20 seconds with warm water afterward and launder team uniforms after playing on the fields.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission, the national agency with the power to recall products found to be dangerous or unhealthy, evaluated the artificial turf in the New Jersey fields and found that "young children are not at risk from exposure to lead in these fields." The commission asked artificial turf manufacturers to voluntarily reduce lead in their product. The leading manufacturers agreed to lower lead used to color synthetic turf to 300 parts per million by the year 2011 and to 100 parts per million or less by the year 2012. Previously constructed fields, however, would not be affected.

Mary Jean Brown, chief of the CDC's lead poisoning prevention branch in Atlanta, said preschool children are most susceptible to lead poisoning. In recent years, the average lead level in youth blood testing has dropped from 17 micrograms per deciliter in the 1970s to a current level of 1.2 micrograms (The CDC considers a blood lead level of 10 to be of concern.) Brown said high levels of lead in children's blood in the past have been attributed to paint and the use of the element as an additive in gas (which was banned in 1996). Lead in lower levels might exist in artificial turf and could be ingested or inhaled by children, and while not a dire health threat to children or adults alike, precautions should still be taken, she said.

The American Academy of Pediatricians has said there is no safe level of lead exposure and suggests levels no higher than trace amounts - 40 parts per million - in soil. "We always have to be concerned about new lead added into our environment," said Helen Binns, a member of the academy who specializes in child lead poisoning. "We need to look seriously at the choices that are made and what they would introduce." Excessive lead exposure has been linked to severe mental retardation, stunted growth, and death. [In very high doses]

Amato, a member of the Synthetic Turf Council, an industry group, dismissed concerns about lead in an interview. Synthetic turf is an off-shoot of the carpet industry, and carpeting often contains low levels of lead that cause no public health threat. So do other plastics, such as twisting telephone cords. Any lead found in artificial turf grass is inert and encapsulated in plastic, he said. "It's not a health risk for children," Amato said of the fields. "These things get blown out of proportion."

More here

A quite remarkable good news story

For almost 100 years, the ascent of Mount Everest has been a powerful symbol of human endeavour. But for Andrew Hodgkinson, trekking 18,000ft to its base camp was an exquisite expression of how a disabling disease could be conquered - thanks to a remarkable new treatment.

For more than 20 years Andrew has suffered with AS, ankylosing spondylitis, an incurable form of arthritis. It affects the spine, especially the lower back. No one knows what triggers the disease, but as in all arthritis, the soft joint tissues - in this case, those of the spine - become inflamed. This results in the vertebrae being worn down, prompting new bone to be formed. But the growth causes the bones to fuse together, leading to pain and immobility. There are 110,000 sufferers in the UK. 'On some days I couldn't get out of my chair,' says Andrew, who runs a garage business in Gnosall, near Stafford, where he lives with wife Sharn and children Megan, 15, and Joe, 11.

Dr Karl Gaffney, a consultant rheumatologist at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, says: 'Eventually, the vertebrae in the spine, which are normally separated by spongy discs, become fused, causing rigidity, and the sufferer can lose mobility.'

In the past, the main treatment has been with NSAIDs, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and paracetamol, which provide relief from the symptoms but do not halt the progression of the disease. But now the drug entanercept is giving sufferers the chance to lead a normal life. The cause of AS is unknown, though it tends to affect men and to strike first in their early 20s. Due to non-specific symptoms, such as back pain and fatigue, diagnosis is often delayed.

Andrew began suffering with pains in his back and a tightness in his chest as a teenager, but it took several years for doctors to detect the problem. Signs of the disease cannot be seen on X-rays until later stages, once significant damage has already been done. When there was no sign of relief, he was referred to an orthopaedic surgeon. By his mid-20s, he had become so stiff he struggled to get out of bed in the morning. A combination of X-rays and a full assessment of his symptoms confirmed it was AS.

Andrew signed up for a two-week intensive physiotherapy course which taught him stretching exercises. Once the course ended, he swam and walked as much as he could every week, all of which helped alleviate his symptoms. But by his mid-30s, he began to suffer with overwhelming fatigue. 'I was like an old man, stumbling around with a walking stick,' he says.

NSAIDs were the only available treatment at that time, but they had little or no effect. So when Andrew was offered the chance to take part in clinical trials for injectable drug entanercept - also known under the brand name Enbrel - at Cannock Chase Hospital in Staffordshire, he didn't hesitate. Entanercept is one of a group of drugs known as anti-TNFs, which work by blocking the action of a naturally-occurring protein in the body called tumour necrosis factor, the cause of the inflammation that hallmarks AS.

'I had my first injection in October 2007 and the effects were instant,' says Andrew. 'The following morning I got out of bed without any trouble. I started having injections once a week and within two sessions it had made the most dramatic difference. I had no pain and I could move freely.'

Prescription is determined by the severity of symptoms. The drug costs 10,000 pounds per patient per year and at the moment only the severely affected are eligible. Dr Neil Hopkinson, a consultant rheumatologist at Christchurch Hospital, Dorset, estimates that 80 to 90 per cent of patients using anti-TNFs see significant improvement.

Andrew was able to play football with his son and even went on a skiing holiday. He began to set himself challenges, including a 60-mile bike ride last May. Galvanised by this new lease of energy, he and three friends planned a trekking holiday to Mount Everest's base at Gorak Shep, Nepal, last November. On reaching the base he says: 'I really was - and felt - on top of the world. After two decades of struggle, I had my mobility back.'


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

John Ray,
I want to start off this comment by saying that it was one of the most informative and interesting blogs I have read thus far. I never new that astroturf was a byproduct of used tires, which contains lead. This was a blog worth reading on forward until the end! :) I really admire the wording in this blog, quite precise to the details but I just might change one or two things, never-the-less, bravo on well choiced words mate.. p.s.>> Thanks for sharing, I actually picked up some knowledge on this one :)

-Have an amazing day!