Following up on public concerns expressed about a plan to install an artificial turf field at the former Woodway High School, the Verdant Health Commission at its meeting Thursday morning released the results of a 23-page review of turf field safety, prepared by environmental and risk sciences consulting firm Gradient.
The firm’s conclusion: Based on the the current publicly available data, chemical levels found in two types of artificial turf that have been considered for the Woodway project — FieldTurf SBR made of rubber tire crumbs and GeoTurf infill made mainly of coconut fibers and sand — do not present a risk to people playing on or using fields with these products. Gradient also had been asked to review findings for a third option that had been considered — “Nike Grind” material from a Nike-sponsored shoe recycling program — but did not receive information in time to include it in the report for Wednesday’s Verdant Commission meeting.
The findings “are consistent with those of multiple regulatory agencies that have evaluated the risk from artificial turf products in general,” the Gradient report said, “including evaluations that are more complex than this screening level assessment. Although there are limitations with a screening level risk assessment such as this one, the consistent conclusion that the data do not indicate an increased risk of health effects from chemical exposure lends additional support to our conclusion.”
Among those present to hear the results of the report at Verdant’s Lynnwood office Wednesday morning were representatives from a group of parents and neighbors who have opposed installation of the tire crumb artificial turf, which has been linked to media reports of possible cancer concerns. Group representatives have spoken at a variety of school district and city meetings, urging the district to look at other turf or natural grass options. But despite opponents’ efforts, both the city council and the school board in recent weeks have taken votes that have moved the fields project forward. (See our report here on an appeal filed last week in Snohomish County Superior Court challenging the city’s land use decision regarding the project.)
“We appreciate the staff and board of Verdant taking the time to thoughtfully respond to the concerns raised by hundreds of community members about crumb rubber,” said group spokeswoman April Osborne. “We felt they honestly and transparently went through an investigative process and shared their findings openly with the public. Throughout the process, Verdant staff answered emails and demonstrated a great deal of respect and integrity in the way they dealt with our concerns and communication.”
Osborne said the results of Gradient’s report came as no surprise to the turf opponents. “Studies are limited, and the consultant hired by Verdant to analyze them came back with an appropriate conclusion based on what is currently available,” Osborne said. “On behalf of the board, Fred (Langer, Verdant Commission Board President) expressed a willingness to continue the conversation, and acknowledged that as more research is done, Verdant remains open to hearing about it.”
Verdant Commission Superintendent Carl Zapora said last week that Verdant is committed to the $2.5 million it has already granted for the multi-use fields project, and that the final decision on which type of turf to use will be up to the school district. But he did leave the door open to the possibility that Verdant could provide additional money to cover the cost of a more expensive type of artificial turf, if the school district made such a funding request. Osborne said that Langer reiterated Wednesday that “should the Edmonds School Board request money for an alternative infill product, the Verdant Board would be very open to discussing the idea.”
Added Osborne: “On behalf of all our children, we will continue to call for more research into the dangers posed by crumb rubber turf, and we appreciate Verdant’s willingness to engage in dialogue and their willingness to continue the conversation.”