State senator, school board candidate enter turf battle during Monday protest

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State Sen. Maralyn Chase at Monday morning's turf fields protest.
State Sen. Maralyn Chase at Monday morning’s turf fields protest.

Washington State Sen. Maralyn Chase, D-32nd District, joined a crowd of about 60 sign-waving, chanting protesters who lined 100th Avenue West in Edmonds Monday morning, reiterating their opposition to a plan to install crumb rubber turf playfields next to the former Woodway High School this summer.

This isn’t the first time that Chase, who lives in Edmonds, has spoken against the project. She appeared at the May 12 Edmonds School Board meeting urging the school district to delay action on the sports field complex project — jointly sponsored by the district, the City of Edmonds and the Verdant Health Commission — until more is known about the safety of the crumb rubber turf, which is made from recycled tires.

Despite Chase’s testimony, the school board voted 4-1 to approve two crumb rubber fields to replace current grass fields at the site, with construction on track to start this summer.

Issac Carrigan, a student at Edmonds Heights K-12, makes his feelings known.
Issac Carrigan, a student at Edmonds Heights K-12, makes his feelings known.

Crumb rubber turf is used widely in sport fields both statewide and nationally, and experts say that currently available research indicates the material is safe to play on. In Edmonds, parents and students attending Edmonds Heights K-12 School, which is located next to the planned project, along with neighbors living near the fields, have been raising health and environmental questions after recent anecdotal reports of cancer clusters among soccer goalies who have played on the artificial turf fields.

“They are within their legal right to do this,” Chase said. “But morally it’s reprehensible. It’s a school.”

The senator said that a 2009 state law that prohibits the manufacturing and sale of children’s products containing lead, cadmium or phthalates does not address turf made from recycled tires, but said that she plans to introduce legislation during the 2016 session to address the issue.

Protesters line 100th Avenue West at the school entrance.
Protesters line 100th Avenue West at the school entrance.

Chase also questioned why the school district wouldn’t take the Verdant Health Commission up on its offer to pay the difference to install turf that doesn’t include crumb rubber. “Why should we spread a carcinogen out there where our kids are playing?” she said.

Also in attendance was Chase’s daughter Carin, who is running for an open seat on the Edmonds School Board this fall, and whose teen son plays soccer, often as a goalie. “I think we need more education and information about this,” Carin Chase said, noting that the South Kitsap School District recently decided to install an artificial turf product made primarily of coconut fibers and sand.

“We know that it’s an available solution to use a non-toxic product such as they are doing in South Kitsap,” Chase said.  “I think this is something the school board should take another look at.”

In response, Edmonds School District spokeswoman Debbie Joyce Jakala said in an email that “the district retained a certified industrial hygienist and Verdant also secured a toxicology and environmental consulting firm; both of the independent experts concluded that the chemical levels found in crumb rubber as used in field turf do not present a risk to people playing on or using the fields with these products. The district is not interested in other types of infills that have been proposed “because the turf experts have identified concerns with the various ‘alternative” infills, such that these are either problematic or unproven in terms of the performance of the fields over time,” she added.

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