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UNH closes Memorial Field after detection of lead in dust samples

By Gretyl Macalaster
Union Leader Correspondent

October 20. 2012 10:48AM

DURHAM - University of New Hampshire officials announced the immediate closure of Memorial Field on Saturday morning.

University officials learned that the artificial turf surface installed at the field in 2002 has degraded to a point where measurable lead levels have been detected in dust samples taken on the surface of the field.

As a result, the field has been closed.

Any remaining varsity team practices and games will be rescheduled and relocated and the field will be replaced as soon as possible.

Memorial Field had already been scheduled for replacement in the upcoming fiscal year but in light of the new information the university is developing an earlier timeline for replacement.

Officials with the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services advised the university that the lead levels found do not present a high risk to adults, but that children aged six or under should not be allowed on the field.

As there are currently no standards for lead levels for outdoor artificial turf fields, the university used the closest relevant health standard, which is a limit for lead dust on interior floor surfaces set by the state of New Hampshire and the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development.

That limit is 40 micrograms per square foot and applies to children under the age of seven.

There were three findings from multiple samplings taken at the field that exceeded the 40 microgram level although the average of all the findings was below that level.

A 2008 CDC report found that there have been no reported cases of elevated blood levels in children linked to artificial turf fields.

Even so, university officials judged that it would be unacceptable to incur any potential risk either to collegiate players or to youth sports groups that currently use the field.

'The safety and well-being of our students, staff and faculty, as well as our many visitors, is of the utmost importance,' UNH Director of Athletics Marty Scarano said. 'We felt any risk of exposure to lead was too much and that closing the field was the right thing to do.'

In a statement released Saturday, university officials said the useful life of artificial surfaces is normally about 10 years. The surfaces naturally deteriorate due to UV radiation exposure which makes the fibers more brittle.

Field maintenance personnel were aware of recent deterioration at Memorial Field and arranged for testing as part of the ongoing monitoring of the field.

UNH has four artificial turf fields, including Memorial. All fields except Memorial have been replaced since 2008 and are not a concern for lead exposure.

Parents who have specific concerns about lead exposure affecting their children are encouraged to consult a health care professional.

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