Artificial turf likely to be used on Edmonds athletic fields

EDMONDS — A nonprofit organization that’s pledged $2.5 million for new artificial turf at the former Woodway High School says it can’t force a change in plans to use so-called crumb-rubber fill on the fields.

The Verdant Health Commission’s decision is at odds with some parents who say they’re worried about possible health issues associated with the fine-grained fill, made from shredded tires.

Fred Langer, president of the five-member Verdant board, had said earlier this month that the group would consider granting an additional $60,000 to $70,000 to substitute organic fill, such as coconut fiber and cork.

But Wednesday he said the commission hasn’t received a request from the Edmonds School District to make the change. The proposed athletic fields are on school district property.

Edmonds School District spokeswoman DJ Jakala said she doesn’t know of plans by the district to request a different type of fill.

The school district has seven existing artificial-turf fields that employ rubber crumb, Jakala said. Construction of the new fields at the former Woodway High School is expected to begin Monday, she said.

Among those who have raised questions about crumb rubber are a University of Washington soccer coach, whose concern about artificial turf and a possible link to cancer was reported by news outlets nationally in 2014.

Some local jurisdictions have scrapped plans for fields using crumb rubber, said Laura Johnson, one of the parents opposed to using it in the sports fields to be built in Edmonds. Use of the rubber fill amounts to “a huge experiment happening with our nation’s children,” she said.

Tiny particles that make up the fill can be released during sports play and then swallowed or inhaled.

“At the very least, they should be posting warning signs on these fields,” Johnson said. Some communities advise players to take steps such as having team members shower immediately after playing on the fields and washing sports clothes separately from household laundry, she said.

Jakala said she hasn’t heard of any formal request for the school district to post such signs.

The Lynnwood-based Verdant Health Commission received a report during its meeting Wednesday morning from Michael K. Peterson, a toxicologist who works for Gradient, a Seattle consulting firm. Verdant paid Peterson $12,400 to review studies that have examined possible health risks from crumb rubber.

The chemical levels found in artificial turf “do not present a risk to people playing on or using the fields,” Peterson said in documents presented to the commission. Yet there have been concerns about possible health effects from the fill “related to data gaps or limitations,” according to his report.

Langer, of the health commission, said he understands that people are concerned about the safety of children. Information on possible health issues raised by crumb fill “is not conclusive but can make someone suspicious about it,” he said.

If the school district wants the commission to consider increasing the budget for the project to include an alternative fill, “all they have to do is give us a call,” he said.

The commission can’t unilaterally decide to make the change in its contract with the school district, Langer said. The Verdant board “can’t impose its will on a sovereign municipality.”

Verdant signed an agreement with the school district to help pay for the sports fields in November. The commission agreed to have an outside consultant review health issues surrounding the sports fields “out of an abundance of caution,” Langer said.

Installation of two artificial-turf fields is being paid for by $500,000 contributions each from the city of Edmonds and the school district, $750,000 in state money and $2.5 million from Verdant. The project is expected to be completed in the fall. The fields can be used for soccer, baseball and lacrosse.

The nonprofit Verdant Health Commission was asked to help fund the project as part of its mission to promote health and reduce childhood obesity in south Snohomish County. The city of Edmonds has discussed development of a sports complex since 2001.

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486;

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