Many Atlanta area schools fail to test for safety of artificial turf

- A FOX 5 I-Team investigation has found many local school systems are not conducting basic safety tests on artificial playing fields.

Artificial turf fields have become commonplace throughout metro Atlanta school systems.

It is called a G-Max test. A fancy name for a simple, yet intricate device, that essentially tests how hard an artificial playing field is.

“This (test) will let you know right off the bat, if a surface is soft enough” says Daniel Edmonds of Labosport.

Edmonds says his company can do all kinds of testing of artificial turf in the lab. They can check for longevity, bounce, failing fibers, and safety issues like knee and ankle injuries.

But, he says the most common safety test, recommended by the Synthetic Turf Council, is the G-Max test.

Researchers have found 10% of all concussions happen when a player’s head hits the field. And, concussions are more serious on artificial turf, according to sports injury researchers.

An international standards organization set a failing score on the G-Max test at 200. 

According to Penn State Center for Sports Surface Research, Any G-Max score over 200 could cause life threatening head injuries.

The NFL wants a score of 165 or lower.

“It is hard to fail a G-Max test. (If you fail this test)  you don't want to be playing on that field, says Labosport’s Edmonds.

We surveyed metro area high schools and found most school systems do not have a regular G-Max testing plan.

Cherokee county told us they ran a G-Max test on their fields when they were installed and again every two years. But, Cherokee county is rare.

Cobb, Fayette, Forsyth County and the city of Carrollton have done no testing. Fayette and the city of Carrollton have done no G-max testing. Cobb and Clayton told us they have not done regular testing since an initial test when the fields were installed.

Fulton said they only test at the end of the field's 8 year warranty. 

Atlanta Public Schools has a lot of artificial turf fields, some for more than a decade. They have never done G-max testing.

But in answer to our survey, Atlanta claimed the school board approved a new G-max testing plan at the beginning of August. We have not been able to review the contract because APS says it is still negotiating with the winning bidder, and by law, cannot release it to us until it is signed.

Then, just a few days ago, Atlanta's facilities director sent out an email to all the metro school systems asking if they knew anything about this G-Max testing.

“Does anyone have any experience / knowledge of impact testing of synthetic turf fields?

Do you test?

How often?

What test do you use?”

Simple questions that have been around the industry for years. These Atlanta parents think it is high time, the city joined the club.

“It sounds like something that’s important it needs to happen for the safety of the kids. It would be beneficial if Atlanta would take the extra initiative to do those tests, absolutely, says the father of an Atlanta Public school football player, Aaron Simpkins.

And, another father, Jay Hare adds, “If the school can't pay for it, I would think our boosters would try to do something to make sure they were at least playing on a safe field.”

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Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story mentioned that the FOX 5 I-Team reviewed the APS field maintenance contract. That is incorrect.

We did review the Request for Proposal for the field maintenance contract, which, as we reported, contained no mention of G-Max testing. 

We requested a copy of the maintenance contract that was approved by the school board on August 6th, but were told by APS that it is exempted from providing draft agreements when negotiations with the winning bidder are still underway and no final contract has been signed. 

In addition, FOX 5 requested the bid proposals. They also were not provided. APS tells us those documents cannot legally be provided until they have a signed contract. We will continue to update this story as we learn more. 

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