In the fall of 2007, New Jersey state health officials made a troubling discovery: A playing field at a Newark park contained extremely high levels of lead. They assumed the contamination was coming from the abandoned scrap-metal yard next door. But the problem turned out to be deep in the fibers of the artificial turf covering the field. When the news broke the following spring, it set off a nationwide scare, and for tiny GeneralSports Venue, a public-relations nightmare.
The company, a five-year-old artificial-turf supplier with 42 employees, wasn’t at fault. But the brand name it had just adopted was. GeneralSports had acquired an exclusive license on the name AstroTurf — the same one used by the now-defunct company that had manufactured the Newark field almost a decade earlier — and had spent millions of dollars to resurrect it. But now that familiar name was at the center of fears about the safety of playing fields, and GSV’s big investment was suddenly at risk. “I’m a parent, and if you think about children, turf, and lead, it’s pretty scary,” says Jon Pritchett, the company’s co-founder and CEO. “Not a whole lot more needs to be said.”
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