Verdant Commissioner promises to explore artificial turf funding options for Woodway fields project

To demonstrate his willingness to work with parents, Verdant Health Commission President Fred Langer offered to have his photo taken with parents collecting signatures outside the PCC store so they could post it to the group's Facebook page. Parents, from left, are Erin Zackey, April Osborne, Laura Johnson and Jen Cardigan.
Verdant Health Commission President Fred Langer, center, stands with parents collecting signatures outside the PCC store. From left, Erin Zackey, April Osborne, Laura Johnson and Jen Carrigan.

Parents worried about the safety of crumb rubber/recycled tire-based turf proposed for a sports field project at former Woodway High School were pleasantly surprised Sunday morning when the president of the Verdant Health Commission, which is funding the first phase of the project, stopped by to chat. And they were delighted when he offered to assist in exploring other artificial turf options.

Commission President Fred Langer was on his way into the PCC Natural Markets store when he spotted the information table staffed by parents, who in the last few days have begun gathering signatures aimed at preserving the former Woodway fields as “a recreational and environmental park for our whole community,” according to the group’s Facebook page.

“What we are trying to do is share with the community a different vision,” parent April Osborne told Langer. “And the reason we’re doing this is, the school board members were very clear in their last meeting, with the exception of one, they’re for the [tire crumb] artificial turf.” That “last meeting” was April 26, when the school board voted 4-1 to approve the recycled tire mix for a different project — Edmonds District Stadium.

To parents worried about the safety of recycled tire crumb fields, the April 26 vote signaled that the board was also likely to approve the same artificial turf material for the Woodway project. A decision on that field is scheduled for the May 12 school board meeting.

Langer told the group Sunday morning he was interested in learning what the parents had to say, especially given the number of emails that Verdant commissioners have been receiving regarding the turf controversy since the issue was raised a month and a half ago.

He noted that Verdant decided a year ago to put $2.5 million toward the multi-use sports field complex off 100th Avenue West because it fulfills one of the commission’s prime objectives: keeping kids active.

Langer told the parents that the commission did hold public meetings on Verdant’s proposed involvement in the project, and those were advertised via legally-required public meeting notices in newspapers, but no one showed up to offer comment except representatives from the Edmonds School District and the Snohomish County Health District.

The unanimous response from parents standing outside of PCC: They hadn’t heard about the Verdant meetings, and they also hadn’t been aware of school district plans for the turf fields until a City of Edmonds public hearing sign was posted next to the field. That sign, explaining Edmonds School District-requested variances for the project, attracted the attention of parents and students attending the Edmonds Heights K-12 school, which serves home-schooled students district-wide. Students from Scriber Lake High School and the district’s V.O.I.C.E. program also use the building.

Since that time, dozens of parents opposing the tire crumb artificial turf — which has been linked to possible cancer concerns — have spoken at school district-sponsored community meetings, school board meetings, a City of Edmonds Hearing Examiner’s meeting and an Edmonds City Council meeting. Parents have urged the district to look at other options, ranging from keeping the natural grass fields to considering other artificial turf field options, which they believe pose less risk than the tire crumb rubber.

One of those options was considered during the April 26 school board meeting: Purchasing turf using “Nike Grind” material – essentially ground-up sneakers from a Nike-sponsored shoe recycling program – rather than the recycled tire crumb mixture. School board member April Nowak was the lone advocate for that option, but other board members said they weren’t convinced it was any safer, and they noted that Nike Grind cost $80,000 more per field.

When parents standing at the table outside the PCC updated Verdant Commissioner Langer on the recent school board actions, he admitted he wasn’t aware of the “toxic crumbs” issue when the commission voted to support the turf fields project last year.

Langer added that he is both an attorney and a registered nurse who in the past has cared for cancer patients, so he is “sympathetic” to the parents’ concerns related to the artificial turf. And he offered to try to broker a meeting soon between Verdant and the school district to explore whether Verdant could possibly fund the cost difference to pay for a safer artificial turf option at Woodway.

Parents told Langer they appreciated his willingness to look into the issue, and also expressed their appreciation for the health and wellness work Verdant has done so far in the Edmonds School District, including funding the “Move 60” program and free swim lessons for all third graders.

In addition, they promised to send Langer by Sunday night information about artificial turf options, along with the most recent scientific studies related to turf safety. The parents also noted a very recent development: That the Consumer Product Safety Commission appears to be reevaluating its position supporting the safety of crumb rubber used in artificial turf and playgrounds.

According to this report from a  television station in Atlanta, Georgia, in 2008 the agency posted an article : “CPSC Staff Finds Synthetic Turf Fields OK to Install, OK to Play On.” The Consumer Product Safety Commission said last Thursday, April 30, that “What was done in 2008 was not good enough to make a claim either way as to the safety of those fields.”

– Story and photo by Teresa Wippel


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