Protest against crumb rubber turf fields fails to sway School Board

Students, parents and community members protest against the Edmonds School District's plans to install crumb rubber turf fields at the former Woodway High School site. The Board of Directors voted to install crumb rubber fields during its Tuesday meeting. (Photo by David Pan)
Students, parents and community members protest against the Edmonds School District’s plans to install crumb rubber turf fields at the former Woodway High School site prior to Tuesday’s School Board meeting. The Board voted in favor of crumb rubber fields during the meeting (Photo by David Pan)

The opponents of crumb rubber turf fields were out in full force at Tuesday’s Edmonds School District Board of Directors meeting.

A group of about 50 children, parents and community members lined both sides of the entrance to the district’s Educational Service Center, where Board Members gathered to vote on the artificial turf field project at the former Woodway High School site in Edmonds. Inside, speaker after speaker, including a state senator, urged the Board to postpone its decision, consider the potential health risks associated with crumb rubber fields, use a different form of infill rather than the crumb rubber and ditch the artificial turf for natural grass. Speakers also were concerned about the impact of the crumb rubber on the city’s drinking water supplies and about the lost educational opportunities associated with the natural grass fields.

But in the end, the Board voted 4-1 in favor of the crumb rubber/recycled tires turf fields, which are part of the planned athletic complex at the former Woodway High School. Board Member April Nowak was the lone dissenter with Board President Diana White and Board Members Gary Noble, Kory DeMun and Ann McMurray voting in favor. Even after their decision, Board Members acknowledged that the issue isn’t going away and they expressed their appreciation to community members for bringing their concerns to the district. Other crumb rubber turf fields in the district are scheduled to be replaced next year and beyond.

“I really truly do appreciate the people who have spoken,” Noble said.

Noble noted that all four high schools in the district have crumb rubber turf fields and the Board approved those fields without knowing that there were issues with crumb rubber. The interest in the Woodway field project resulted in Board Members receiving extensive information on the subject from the public. As a result, an industrial hygienist was hired by the district to review studies and a two-hour School Board study session devoted to the issue was held in April, Noble noted.

“Public input on this had a large bearing on the process, even if the end result didn’t come out the way you wanted it to,” Noble said.

McMurray agreed with Noble that the public brought the issue to the forefront through their activism.

“The issue is now on our radar,” McMurray said.

While in her opinion the state of evidence does not point to a definite heightened risk for crumb rubber fields, McMurray said that “this process is continuing. Information is continuing.”

In a statement she read before the vote, White said that the Board’s priority is the health, well-being and education of the district’s students and that the district staff had done a good job of fielding questions from the public on the project.

“The Board has confidence in the process and the research conducted over the past months in regard to the former Woodway field project,” White said.

White cited the need for more playable sports fields for the district’s 4,000 student-athletes and the important benefits of extracurricular activities, which include higher grades, better attendance and more self-confidence and social skills.

In addressing concerns expressed by students from Edmonds Heights K-12 School, White said, “Do I serve a small population of students from Edmonds Heights and Scriber or do I help serve the 4,000 student-athletes and community who will use this field to its fullest potential and the answer is easy for me.”

The Board’s decision didn’t sit well with Laura Johnson, a parent of three students at Edmonds Heights, who asked the Board earlier in the meeting to provide children with the safest field possible.

“I’m really disappointed. My school district didn’t listen to the community,” Johnson said. “They didn’t listen to the parents. They just went the status quo. They’re not able to think outside the box. They’re not able to be proactive.”

Edmonds Heights teacher Erin Zackey wasn’t surprised by the decision, based on the Board’s previous vote for a crumb rubber field for Edmonds Stadium.

“I’m thoroughly disappointed,” she said. “This is the wrong decision for the school. I think it was a bad choice.”

Both Zackey and Johnson faulted the district for a lack of engagement with the community about the project.

“They could have done a better job of informing our community,” Zackey said.

Zackey believes that the fields at the former Woodway High School definitely need to be improved but she’ was surprised the district was planning to replace the natural grass with artificial turf fields.

A resolution to use Nike grind, ground-up sneakers from the company’s shoe recycling program, failed 4-1 with Nowak the only Board Member in favor. A third alternative in which the rubber was coated did not draw any support from the Board.

Nowak said that the Nike grind seemed to be a better solution, especially since it doesn’t have the specific carcinogens that are present in the crumb rubber. “It feels like a better move,” Nowak said.

Other speakers also voiced support for alternatives to crumb rubber.

“I think it is wise to experiment with other surfaces to learn what works best in the Edmonds School District,” Maggie Pinson said.

White wasn’t in favor of using one of the other alternative infills, saying that they were untested, not common to the Pacific Northwest and didn’t have a sufficient warranty.

Maralyn Chase, a State Senator from the 32nd District, was one of those who suggested the Board delay a decision on the project. Chase told the Board that no state agency currently regulates the crumb rubber product because it is a recycled product and the state doesn’t regulate recycled products. No agency regulates the content of the crumb rubber, the installation, maintenance or disposal of the product, though Chase is hoping that the state legislature will change that. Chase added that it is possible that crumb rubber might be regulated under the children’s safe product act.

“A lot of the content in the crumbs are prohibited,” Chase said.

Chase added she is hoping the state will fund a study on crumb rubber.

“I urge you to put this vote off until we get more information,” Chase said. “There’s more information coming over and over. Every day we get new information.”

Nowak initially proposed that the Board wait a year to make a decision on the artificial turf fields but her motion was later amended to six months. Nowak wanted to use the time to further study, not only the safety issues associated with crumb rubber, but also to address traffic concerns and community engagement on the project. Nowak said that new information is coming out on crumb rubber and that installing the new fields was not an issue that the Board needed to rush.

“Let’s just kind of take a step back and look at the science,” Nowak said. “Let’s take a bit more time on this to make the right decision.”

Nowak’s motion did not pass with DeMun the only other Board Member to support it and White, Noble and McMurray opposed to the delay.

Noble’s principal concerns were a potential escalation in the costs of the project and his desire to know that any delay would not jeopardize any of the funding from the district’s partners in the project – City of Edmonds, Verdant Health Commission and a grant from the state. White said she didn’t think there were going to be any answers on the safety issue in a year or even in five years.

“I feel like we need to make a decision right now and it’s tough,” White said.

– By David Pan

8 Replies to “Protest against crumb rubber turf fields fails to sway School Board”

  1. If you look at the known facts, and the big picture, this should not be a tough decision.

    The School Board seems more concerned about the short-term expense, and unconcerned about the possible long-term effects of toxic exposure to children, not to mention the likely future expense of cleaning this mess up if/when it’s proven to be dangerously toxic.

    This mistake is likely to be an embarrassment for Edmonds School District for many years to come. The EPA has waffled on the issue, backed off calling it safe, and are pushing states to undertake their own studies. Even with the limited data available from a handful of studies, the EPA lists the following materials that may be found in crumb rubber, which *have* been proven to be toxic to humans and to the environment.

    halogenated flame retardants
    methyl ethyl ketone
    methyl isobutyl ketone
    polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons
    styrene – butadiene


    For more info. about the questionable reliability of previous studies, this article explains why the EPA was motivated to promote crumb rubber to dispose of old tires.


  2. Congratulations to the Edmonds School District Board for a rational decision in the face of irrational eco-emotionalism. Now I’m off to make sure all the latex, nylon, polyester and rayon are cleaned out of my closet…


  3. On Tuesday the Edmonds School Board made the decision to install a crumb rubber/artificial turf field at Former Woodway High School. It was a disappointing vote for the large group of community members, parents and students who have been urging the board to go with an alternative infill material for the proposed synthetic turf field.

    Crumb rubber is made from recycled used tires and used as an infill material on synthetic turf fields. There has been mounting nationwide concern that exposure to crumb rubber may lead to an increase in cancer, particularly among children. Additionally, there are concerns about run off entering Olympic View water supply, nearby Deer Creek, and potential for harm to migratory birds in the wooded area surrounding the fields, an area designated a Washington State Fish and Wildlife Conservation Area.

    Edmonds School District did hire an industrial hygienist to look at the safety of crumb rubber- the report was an analysis of 34 ARTICLES PROVIDED BY THE SCHOOL DISTRICT! The district was interested in not only installing another crumb rubber turf field, but also confirming their past choice to install other crumb rubber fields at other schools. By providing their own hand-picked articles for analysis, and calling it a “study”, they were able to influence the conclusion they desired. However, this is anything but “unbiased”!

    Following the vote, School Board President Diana White stated “Do I serve a small population of students from Edmonds Heights and Scriber or do I help the 4,000 student-athletes and community who will use this field to its fullest potential and the answer is easy for me”. White’s statement was an insult to all, but especially to the neighbors and community members, those without students on campus, who turned out to speak. Not surprisingly, as this was a school board meeting, there were many with school children in attendance; there was also an Edmonds’ City Council meeting at the same time which other community members attended. It should also be noted that not one person present spoke in favor of the current field plan.

    To infer that the Edmonds Heights community was being self-centered and attempting to keep the fields to themselves was a complete manipulation of the message presented. The majority message was “Safe athletic/playfields for ALL”….EVERYONE, including athletes from other schools, community sports, surrounding community, and of course the programs located on that campus. That is anything but self-serving! We are addressing the health of all who will use the field.

    Washington State Senator Maralyn Chase, who has no personal ties to the school, spoke on the unknowns with crumb rubber safety. She strongly encouraged a delay on the vote while its safety is studied. What an insult to her and her time to suggest that those who oppose the plan are only from the Edmonds Heights school community!

    The morning following the vote ESD Superintendent Nick Brossoit suggested posting warning signs for all athletic fields. I believe this is less out of public concern and more of a CYA move, but I am thankful, at least the information may get out. We have helped spread the word to a much larger audience, who if concerned can take measures to protect their children when playing on this type of field.

    Considering the lessons we have learned about tobacco, asbestos, lead paint, and pesticide use, which were all once touted as safe…..why risk making the same mistake, especially when there are safer options available? It should also be noted, as reported by My Edmonds News, Verdant is open to the possibility of providing additional money to cover the cost of a more expensive type of artificial turf, if the district was to make the request. Sadly, they did not make a request.

    While we may not have been able to get ESD to make the safer choice for these 2 fields, this is much larger issue. It is disappointing Edmonds School District does not choose to act on this now be on the forefront of our children and communities safety…they may pay a big price catching up later.

    Deflated, but not defeated,

    Laura Johnson


  4. It’s pretty amazing that the school district can take tax payers money and just do what they want they get the money for this stuff from the citizenthey should at least listen to what the people want particularly the people who live in that area they didn’t that’s not right the only thing good about field turf is that it’s better than a strong turf is it as good as natural grass I don’t think so for every world cup soccer match at century link field they put natural grass over the field turf cost about 150 grand true story. Ask anybody who has ever played in the rose bowl is there a better field nope that’s the best. Oh well I think that whole project is a dumb idea at best they have a field and grandstands right in downtown edmonds that’s never used


  5. “potential escalation of costs”……I just have to say WOW!

    The irony of the mention of Verdant HEALTH…….the word “HEALTH” being the word of irony here……regarding money savings and hurrying on getting the crum rubber fields going…..

    experimenting and testing on CHILDREN…!…..and only concern costs escalating

    Perhaps research needs to be done in regards to a hurry up on something of this magnitude that is clearly controversial because of the toxic CHEMICALS, any ONE of which is proven to be a toxic chemical

    According to the EPA in late 2013 only 4,500 fields in the country had crumb rubber use.

    The following is a list of all the possible chemicals that can be in crumb rubber including CADMIUM and it is crumbly and loose and can leave the area in many ways including birds, walkaways, surface water, etc.)

    CADMIUM (yes, the same as in artists “cadium” paints also that must be handled very carefully by adults and I would not let a child handle at all in my art studio……very toxic substance and one of the most toxic in the world!!) was found in an award winning study in China at the Fudan University of Public Health over a ten year period with people in contact with cadmium either environmentally or occupational to have harmful affects to their bodies that can last up to 30 years with many illnesses. Cadmium has also been found in a few toys/necklases for children that have come from China.

    The U.S. listed cadmium by the Toxic Substances Disease Registry as one of the most poisonous chemicals in the world.

    List of possible chemicals in crum rubber:

    Acetone, aniline, arsenic, barium, benzohiazale, chlorethiam, chromiam, cobalt, copper,

    halogenated flame retardant, isoprene, latex, lead, manganese, mercury, methl ethl ketone,

    mephtalene, isobutyl , nickel, nylon, phenol pigments, polycycic aromatic hydorcarbons, polyester

    rayon, styrene, butadiene, touieene, trichlor thylene

    Always an issue of safety, do we wish to expose anybody, including our wildlife to any ONE of these chemicals or pollute our environment?


    Another example of putting the cart before the horse and what can happen

    ********I guess I would like to know the name of the company that possibly someone has already chosen to do this……

    “Thirty four articles provided by the School District”……..I would like to know the name of the company chosen


  6. The School Board in this case has voted for a decision so far away from what the public wants that it is time to seriously consider a recall petition to recall those members that don’t seem to care what the public thinks.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Real first and last names — as well as city of residence — are required for all commenters.
This is so we can verify your identity before approving your comment.

By commenting here you agree to abide by our Code of Conduct. Please read our code at the bottom of this page before commenting.