Edmonds City Council extends ban on crumb rubber

Edmonds School District maintains city overstepping authority
By Brian Soergel | Apr 27, 2017
Photo by: Brian Soergel Crumb-rubber fields were installed at old Woodway High School in 2015. The city’s temporary ban was in place shortly after.

Despite a state report and continued pushback from the Edmonds School District, the city of Edmonds is doubling down on its ban on the installation of synthetic turf made from recycled tires until it gathers more definitive information on its effects.

The extension continues through February 2018.

The City Council approved extending the 18-month ban on “crumb rubber” it instituted in December 2015 a few months after the school district opened two synthetic turf sports fields on the grounds of the former Woodway High School.

The city contributed $500,000 of the $4.2 million price tag.

The moratorium came after months of public hearings, and was taken as a precautionary measure regarding crumb rubber’s use.

It banned the installation of the infill at any publicly owned athletic field, which included fields owned by the city, county, school district, port district, hospital district and other special purpose districts or government entities within city limits.

This month, Councilmember Dave Teitzel – a member of a three-person committee studying the issue, along with fellow Councilmembers Mike Nelson and Kristiana Johnson – said he supports the extension, primarily due to research still being conducted nationally and locally about the risks of playing on crumb rubber playfields.

A national study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will be released by the end of year; it will assess the cancer-causing potential of the properties in crumb rubber, which will assist the council in making a final decision to extend, make permanent or lift the ban, Teitzel said.

“It behooves the council to be careful and have all the facts before making a decision,” he said. “Extending the ban until February 2018 gives the council two months to assess the studies’ findings and make a final decision.”

There are a number of new infill technologies for artificial turf, including silica sand and another with nylon that has a longer life than crumb rubber. There also is the option of using paint material to encapsulate rubber.

The Environmental Protection Agency says it is aware of alternatives to tire crumb that can be used as infill, such as organic materials like sand, coconut husks or cork.

In addition, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has advocated that the public and homeowners use shredded mulch, pea gravel and other materials to create a shock-absorbing surface under backyard and public playgrounds.

Investigation

A statewide group has already weighed in.

In January, the Washington State Department of Health and researchers at the University of Washington School of Public Health released a report investigating issues related to soccer playing and cancer.

It came after UW soccer coach Amy Griffin told NBC News she noticed a pattern of cancer among soccer players. Two of them, in fact, had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Both were goalies, who typically spend more time on the ground and in possible contact with crumb-rubber fields than other players. Griffin told NBC in 2014 that she had compiled a list of 38 soccer players nationwide diagnosed with cancer – 34 were goalies.

By 2016, the number had grown to 53 players.

The report’s conclusion, after comparing cancer rates of soccer players with cancer rates among people of the same age group in the state: “This investigation found less cancer among the soccer players than expected based on rates of cancer among Washington residents of the same ages. This finding does not suggest that soccer players, select and premier soccer players, or goalkeepers in Washington are at increased risk for cancer compared to the general population.

“In addition, the currently available research on the health effects of artificial turf does not suggest that artificial turf presents a significant public health risk. Assurances of the safety of artificial turf, however, are limited by lack of adequate information on potential toxicity and exposure.”

The DOH concluded that it “recommends that people who enjoy soccer continue to play, irrespective of the type of field surface.”

State health officials say, however, that to minimize exposure to chemicals, you should wash hands and clothes after playing, take a shower, and not swallow any pieces of rubber, among other precautions.

(To see the full DOH report, go to bit.ly/2pbZalP).

That’s not good enough for Laura Johnson, an Edmonds resident who has participated in protests against crumb rubber locally.

“Even with a list of precautions, it is not a risk I will take with my family due to the multitude of toxins and carcinogens in tires,” she said. “I also personally know three families with children, soccer goalies, who grew up playing on crumb rubber turf and have had cancer.

“Sadly, two passed away in their early 20s and the third, a 16-year-old, just finished treatment for a second time after the cancer came back. Knowing all this, we avoid the fields.”

Johnson said she applauds the council for continuing its precautionary ban on the use of crumb rubber.

“They have been leaders on this issue and have set an example for others to follow. Numerous school districts locally and around the country are choosing not to use the waste-tire material suspected by many to increase the likelihood of developing cancer, particularly in children.

“Currently, Minnesota and Connecticut are pushing forward with legislation that will place a moratorium on the use of the waste-tire product on playgrounds and athletic fields. I am proud to live in a community that has been on the forefront of educating and advocating on this important issue.”

School District position

When councilmembers approved the ban’s extension this month, Edmonds School District’s executive director of business and operations, Stewart Mhyre, requested a letter composed by the district’s lawyers in 2015 be read into the record.

The school district’s position then, as now, is that after its own due diligence, which included hiring an industrial hygienist, concluded that “there is no evidence indicating probable, significant adverse environmental impacts of use of crumb rubber materials.”

District spokeswoman Debbie Joyce Jakala says that, with the ban, the city of Edmonds is overstepping its authority and preventing the district from providing services.

But City Attorney Jeff Taraday counters that he believes the city is on solid legal ground with the temporary ban while it waits for more studies.

All the existing playfields at the district’s four main high schools – Edmonds-Woodway, Meadowdale, Mountlake Terrace and Lynnwood – have crumb rubber fields. The district has used crumb rubber for at least 20 years, and installed a replacement at Edmonds-Woodway two years ago.

In addition, Jakala said the district plans to replace the natural grass baseball field at Edmonds-Woodway some time next year. The turf has not yet been decided.

The district also plans to install new sports fields at the Meadowdale Playfields, located in the city of Lynnwood. The facility was developed as a joint project between the cities of Lynnwood, Edmonds, the Edmonds School District and Snohomish County.

The $5 million project includes $500,000 from Edmonds, which hosts adult sports programs there. (Lynnwood is now trying to get an additional $200,00 from Edmonds after cost overruns, but Edmonds councilmembers shot that idea down on Tuesday.)

Parks and Recreation Director Carrie Hite said the city’s portion would go to safety netting, fencing and other improvements, not turf.

The school district will decide what type of turf to be used.

Verdant, Health District

Two local health agencies have released their own conclusions on crumb rubber.

The Lynnwood-based Verdant Health Commission, which serves south Snohomish County, has independently reported that chemical levels in field turf infill “do not present a risk to people playing on or using the fields with these products.”

Verdant contributed $2.5 million to the crumb-rubber fields at Woodway Field.

Jefferson Ketchel, interim administrator of the Everett-based Snohomish Health District, issued the following statement to the Beacon:

“Research suggests exposures from crumb rubber are very low, but more study is needed. For now, we’d encourage kids and parents to follow simple practices like removing shoes and uniforms before entering the home, and washing hands after playing. These are good rules to follow regardless of the type of field.”

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