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Senior Rachel Wert stretches Thursday with teammates on the artificial turf at Selinsgrove Area High School before track and field practice. While two artificial playing fields in New Jersey have been found to contain high levels of lead dust, officials at Valley schools with synthetic surfaces say they aren't overly concerned.

The discovery of lead dust in the blades of certain artificial-turf fields isn’t yet grounds for concern among Valley high school and university officials.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is researching possible health hazards after two fields in New Jersey were closed in April due to high levels of lead in the synthetic turf, The Associated Press reports.

The report raises fears that athletes could swallow or inhale fibers or dust from the playing surface. The artificial-turf industry denies its products are dangerous, but the commission continues its investigation.

Tim Pavlechko, senior associate director of athletics at Bucknell University, said the Lewisburg school contacted the company from which it bought its playing surface after learning of the lead findings.

“We were ensured tests were done on the competitors and that we have different fibers on our fields,” Pavlechko said.

Campus officials were provided with documentation showing there is little or no lead in the turf on campus, he said.

“It was something for us to take care of right away for the welfare of our student athletes,” he said, “and we will continue to monitor it with our supplier.”

Susquehanna to “check it out”

Gerald Cohen, executive director of communications at Susquehanna University, said the reports were not well known at the Selinsgrove school.

“We, of course, are very interested in this development because we’re always concerned about the health of our students,” Cohen said, “especially athletes who will play on these kinds of surfaces.”

Susquehanna has two artificial playing surfaces, Cohen said. One was installed on the football field in 2002 and the other, on the soccer field, in 2004. Both fields are made of polyethylene.

“We’re definitely interested,” Cohen said. “I wouldn’t say we are at the level of being concerned yet, but we will be checking this out.”

Robert Hults, Selinsgrove Area School District athletic director, said he isn’t too worried about the football field’s artificial surface.

“We’ve checked with Sprint Turf, who installed it, and at this point we are satisfied with their explanation of things,” he said.

Hults said he doesn’t consider the field to be an area of concern, unless, he said, someone was eating it.

“I suppose if someone got down there and was chewing it,” he said, laughing. “So far I haven’t heard any of that.”

According to recent reports, the United States has about 3,500 synthetic playing fields made of various materials, including nylon and polyethylene, and about 800 are installed each year, according to the industry’s Synthetic Turf Council.

Pigment containing lead chromate is used in some surfaces to make the turf green and hold its color in sunlight, but it is not clear how widely the compound is used.

In the New Jersey cases, both fields containing lead were nylon fields. An additional 10 were tested and none of the polyethylene fields tested positive for lead.

Both nylon fields were AstroTurf-brand surfaces.

New Jersey found itself at the core of the investigation after state health authorities discovered the lead while researching whether runoff from a scrap-metal operation in Newark had contaminated an adjacent playing field, the AP reported.

“I haven’t heard anything from the Environmental Protection Agency where this is really a problem,” Hults said. “Unless some scientific study is done to prove this, I don’t have anything else to go on. I go with what I’m told here and it appears to be safe and satisfactory for our use.”

n E-mail comments to gmorton@dailyitem.com.

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