Synthetic Turf on DC Fields Fails Safety Tests, Raises Concerns

WASHINGTON — Child safety advocates in the District are raising concerns about test results on artificial turf fields that show some surfaces may be too hard for kids to play on without a significant risk of being injured.

In recent months, 11 fields at schools and recreation centers failed or received conflicting results on safety tests, according to D.C.’s Department of General Services, the agency that manages city-owned properties.

One of the failing fields was at Janney Elementary School, which had to close down its field to replace it.

“Some parents were very concerned, but it was mixed,” said Tom Quinn, an advisory neighborhood commissioner in D.C. who has two children at Janney. “There was also concern about losing practice time on the field because practice time for outdoor fields is really hard to get in this area.”

The safety tests, called GMAX tests, determine whether a surface is too hard to play on.

Each one of the District’s 52 artificial turf fields undergoes the test at least once annually.

“Higher GMAX values indicate harder playing surfaces, leading to higher probability of concussions and other injuries,” the general services department said. “The most commonly used standard establishes a GMAX value of 200 as the maximum allowable limit.”

However, there is some disagreement about that figure.

A group of concerned parents, known as Tireless DC, says the maximum value should be 165, and that anything above 200 is extremely dangerous.

Five of the 11 fields that failed or received conflicting test results have been repaired, including the one at Janney. The six others have been put on limited-use restrictions while the general services department conducts further testing and decides what should be done.

Advocates, such as those with Tireless DC, are pushing for further information on how many fields have problems and exactly how high the GMAX values are.

“The lack of transparency on this issue has left us in the dark,” said a member of the group who asked to remain anonymous.

Safety advocates have also voiced concerns about material in artificial turf. They say some of the chemicals that are used have been known to increase obesity, cause early puberty and exacerbate asthma.

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