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Is there lead in Montgomery County’s artificial turf fields?

In this file photo taken in Seattle Friday, May 17, 2009, tiny bits of ground up tires used as filler between blades of artificial grass are displayed on a field made of synthetic turf at a playfield in a north Seattle neighborhood. Some health experts, activists and parents are worried that children may be exposed to chemicals by inhaling or swallowing the rubber granules. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

WASHINGTON — Six high schools in Montgomery County, Maryland, feature artificial turf fields. When the county debated their funding and installation, there were numerous hearings and passionate arguments on both sides.

Proponents insisted the artificial fields would provide long-term playing surfaces that could be used by more teams more often, opening up more playing time for more kids.

Opponents insisted there were questions about health and safety, in particular, the safety of the rubber crumb “infill” — the pellets that helped the artificial blades of “grass” stand up and that cushion athletes’ movements. There were also questions about the makeup of the materials. One question loomed: Did they contain lead?

Recently, a turf industry representative testified at a Maryland House committee hearing and was asked point-blank by one delegate, “Is there lead in your products?”

The executive answered, “There’s lead in a lot of things in this world.”

The delegate questioned again, and this time got the following response: “Yes, there’s lead in our products.”

That admission stuck with Montgomery County Council member Marc Elrich, who during an Education Committee meeting Monday afternoon, told his colleagues he’d be sending a letter to County Executive Ike Leggett asking that the county test the six high school fields where artificial turf has been installed. In calling for the testing, Elrich said, “I don’t think there’s anybody that debates whether lead should be in contact with children.”

Elrich also moved that the county hold off on spending $11 million to expand the construction of artificial turf fields in the school system, instead suggesting that the money be put toward other construction. The committee voted in favor.

A final spending decision will come as the school board and full council reconcile spending priorities.

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