Friday Night Lights is Killer

No, I’m not talking about season 3 of NBC’s Friday Night Lights, which is AWESOME and returns to the high-quality standard of the perfect 1st season (don’t get me started on season 2), but the actual field of the Permian Panthers, on whom the Dillon Panthers are based. Based on testing done by the Environmental Protection Agency, Ratliff Stadium’s artificial turf field has levels of lead that are approximately 14 times the EPA standards. Another nearby school, in the Birdville district of Fort Worth also tested for high levels of lead, nearly 10 times the standard. Both stadiums feature the same kind of turf, known as AstroPlay, and the high lead levels were found in a secondary layer of nylon fiber known as the “root zone. Neither field had lead levels at the top level of the fields where players make contact, but the Birdville stadium had lead in the water running off the field, which is a sign that the lead is being released into the larger environment.

“Our opinion is that AstroPlay turf could pose a human health risk,” wrote Michael T. Abel, project manager at the Lubbock lab that conducted the test.

School officials in Birdville are monitoring the situation carefully, but also admitted that they don’t have the $300-400,000 needed to replace the 5-year old turf. Other stadiums in Texas have been shut down for lower levels of lead, as has a playground at a Beverly Hills, California which also featured AstroPlay.

The manufacturers of artificial turf dismiss charges that the fields are dangerous, contending that the lead is contained in fibers below the surface. The other side argues that as use and sunlight degrade the quality of the field the risks and dangers drastically increase.

Despite nearly a dozen other districts that feature AstroPlay turf fields, only Odessa and Birdville tested their fields, believing it not to be a major concern. “We’re not burying our head in the sand,” said Joe Loerwald, athletic director for the Round Rock school district outside Austin, which has an AstroPlay field. “But, at the same time, we don’t see it as a prevalent problem.”

Experts in the field, like Winifred Hamilton the director of environmental health at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston disagree. “It seems to me that we’ve jumped into something without properly understanding it,” she said.

[Star Telegram]

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