After a long discussion Tuesday night, the Edmonds School Board voted to accept a $1.79 million bid from a contractor to replace the athletic fields at Meadowdale and Mountlake Terrace high schools with new crumb rubber fields. The measure passed by a 3-1 vote, with Board Member Carin Chase voting no, and Board President Susan Phillips absent.
Tuesday’s decision to install new crumb rubber fields followed a discussion the school board held on March 24 about different infill materials. Several infill options were discussed and three alternatives to crumb rubber were selected as possible options, but the board wanted to see bids on those materials before making a final selection. After reviewing the bids Tuesday and discussing the benefits and drawbacks, crumb rubber was ultimately selected.
The use of crumb rubber has recently been called into question by activists, who say the material is dangerous for athletes as it contains heavy metals and other toxins which may be harmful to humans. No scientific study has conclusively said crumb rubber is harmful to humans, but there is no dispute that harmful chemicals are present in the rubber.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), alongside other federal agencies, is currently studying whether those metals and chemicals can be absorbed by the human body. A draft of those findings is expected in December.
Crumb rubber is currently banned in the City of Edmonds and will be for at least another year. Neither of these fields are located in Edmonds.
The bid from Sprinturf, LLC included alternative bids for three alternative infill products: crumb rubber coated in polyurethane, a sand and cork mixture and a sand and coconut mixture. Each would cost an extra $141,000 to $193,000, with additional maintenance costs up to $68,900 per year.
All of the bids were within the budget set by the school board, but ultimately, those costs and a lack of scientific evidence that crumb rubber is harmful to athletes were the reasons why the alternative materials were not selected.
“We have a lot of projects in the queue,” Board Member Ann McMurray said. “I want that money to stay in capital projects as much as possible because I haven’t seen anything yet that is definitive regarding an elevated health risk.”
Those feelings were echoed by Board Members Diana White and Gary Noble. But those sentiments were not shared by the entire school board.
“The values I have are recognizing the concern and the safety concerns are real, they are being addressed, and knowing that, I couldn’t vote to put crumb rubber on a new field,” Board Member Carin Chase said. “There is a question and there is a health concern and top scientists are now looking at this.”
Chase referenced the current EPA study, saying it now being conducted because of public concern and the lack of what she called “adequate” studies into crumb rubber’s impacts.
Superintendent Nick Brossoit also said that if the study by the EPA study showed something substantial, it would be possible to remove the crumb rubber and replace it with something organic in the future without ripping up the entire field. Organic materials may also become cheaper as demand would certainly grow for them.
Over 300 fields in Washington currently use crumb rubber and the material has been on the market for nearly two decades. Other products that were considered are used on only a handful of fields in Washington and have existed for between two and 10 years.
–By Natalie Covate