Edmonds School District Board hears from opponents of ‘recycled tire’ turf fields

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A sign alerting passersby to the changes planned for the playfields at Old Woodway High School. Edmonds Heights K-12 classrooms are located at the left in the photo. The Edmonds School District plans to replace the grass baseball field directly above the sign with two turf fields later this spring.
A sign alerting passersby to the changes planned for the playfields at Old Woodway High School. Edmonds Heights K-12 classrooms are located at the left in the photo. The Edmonds School District plans to replace the grass baseball field directly above the sign with two turf fields later this spring.

The Edmonds School District Board of Directors heard plenty of opposition to the District’s plans to install two artificial turf fields at the former Woodway High School site.

During the public comment period at Tuesday’s Board meeting, residents, parents and students voiced concerns about the potential health impacts related to the recycled tire turf, now planned for the facility, given recent publicity suggesting a possible link between the tire crumbs and cancer.

The fields are part of a multi-use “health and wellness campus” project involving the school district, the City of Edmonds and the Verdant Health Commission. Students from Edmonds Heights K-12 School – which serves home-schooled students district-wide – and Scriber Lake High School still use the former Woodway High building, which is off 100th Avenue West in Edmonds

During a presentation on the project, Edmonds School District Director of Business and Operations Stewart Mhyre referred to a study out of Connecticut, which he described as the most in-depth and peer-reviewed study. Stewart said that a recent letter from the State of Connecticut Department of Public Health referenced the 2010-11 study and stated that the Department’s position expressed in 2011 that “outdoor artificial turf fields do not represent an elevated health risk, remains unchanged.”

Christi Davis, a Brier  resident, contended that the study also said that the conclusion could benefit from further testing of fields. Davis, who stated she has a Ph.D in Health Services Research from the University of Rochester, added that “We don’t know what’s going on. There have been no human studies of soccer players playing on these fields. … We don’t have enough evidence. We’re gambling with our kids’ lives.”

Others in the audience shared Davis’ concerns. Deb Harrick, a Seattle resident who has two children at Edmonds Heights, is concerned about the dust that will be kicked up by users of the fields.

“We are really just finding out how this material affects people long term,” she said. “I am not going to let my kids on that field during the school day.”

Harrick encouraged the board to reconsider the use of recycled tire turf.

Four students expressed their opposition to the artificial turf fields in a brief musical number in which they sang, “All the kids are saying no. Why are you saying yes?”  and concluded with an emphatic “No rubber tires” message.

Sierra Johnson, a freshman at Edmonds Heights, backed up her peers, saying that in walking around the camps, “I heard so many kids talking about this new field going in and sadly most of it is not positive.”

Many kids would rather play on natural grass as opposed to artificial tuft, Johnson said.

“A big concern for kids is the products that are being used in the Astroturf,” she said. “We’re not entirely sure what it is … We know that it’s not something we want in our bodies. I think if health is a concern, then we really shouldn’t be putting in Astroturf.”

About 400 artificial turf fields are being installed in Washington and only a handful of fields do not have the recycled tire component, said DA Hogan Principal Engineer David Anderson, a consultant/designer on the project.

Anderson noted that the Seattle Seahawks, University of Washington, Washington State, Western Washingon and most of the Pac-12 schools have fields with the recycled tire component.

Another option the board is considering an alternate material called Nike Grind that is essentially ground-up sneakers from a Nike-sponsored shoe recycling program. That option would cost about $150,000 more than the tire crumb turf.

Cynthia Heckman of Edmonds would rather have grass fields and hoped that it was still an option for the project.

“I’m not a scientist. I know it’s not good to bring rubber tires into the house,” she said. “I know that happens when my kids play on turf fields. I would like to see less and less of that (tuft fields), not more and more of it.”

A parent of an Edmonds Heights student added that the more she reads about the subject the more concerned she becomes.

“Is it appropriate to consider something that is unproven in terms of toxicity? At best it’s unproven. At worst it looks pretty bad to me,” she said.

– By David Pan

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