Preliminary test results: Crumb-rubber in artificial fields safe

EVERETT — Preliminary tests on seven crumb rubber ballfields — including one at the Boys &Girls Club in Everett — have found they pose no unusual safety risks to those playing on them, according to the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation, which paid for the tests.

But the Baltimore-based foundation also said it will pay for further studies on the material used in artificial turf fields. The group believes the tests will be the most comprehensive conducted so far of artificial turf fields, John Maroon, a spokesman for the organization, said in an email Thursday.

The results are expected this summer. Maroon said the foundation wouldn’t have any further comment until later this year. The foundation is named for the famous former Baltimore Orioles manager.

Ken Salem, development director for the Boys &Girls Clubs of Snohomish County, said the organization understands the concerns about crumb rubber.

“Just like all the parents of our kids, we want to make sure our kids are safe,” he said. “We await the results of their studies just like everybody else.”

The crumb-rubber fill, made from ground up tires, has triggered increasing concern over a possible link to cancer. Last year, the Ripken foundation announced that it would pay for testing on seven fields in response to ongoing national publicity about the issue.

The organization promised to replace all the fields it has helped to pay for if a problem was found. The foundation has helped fund construction of the artificial-turf fields in Everett and at 41 other locations nationally.

The initial tests “have found nothing to raise any concerns,” Maroon said. No details were immediately available on the type of preliminary tests that were conducted or more specifics on the results. The tests were completed by Labosport, based in Montreal, Canada.

Material was tested from fields in Everett; Baltimore; Bridgeport, Connecticut; Minneapolis; Newport News, Virginia; Naples, Florida; and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

The tested material came from fields chosen for their geographic diversity, including regions of the country with different climates, as well as from fields that were newly installed or built up to four years ago.

The Everett ballfield is on the grounds of the Boys &Girls Club at 2316 12th St., near Hawthorne Elementary School. Installation of the artificial turf, paid for by the Ripken foundation, Everett Community College and Snohomish County Parks and Recreation, was completed in 2014.

The artificial turf replaced an aging grass-and-dirt field. Cost of the new field, including seating, dugouts, bullpens and landscaping, was nearly $1 million.

The Everett Community College womens softball team also uses the field.

Salem said the Boys &Girls Clubs of Snohomish County will “do whatever action we have to, to continue to provide a safe, secure, and healthy environment for our kids.”

Crumb rubber sports fields have come under increasing scrutiny both locally and nationally, in part because of the concerns of Amy Griffin, a University of Washington soccer coach. She began keeping track of young adults, mostly soccer players, who played on the fields who later were diagnosed with cancer. That list has now grown to 218 names, she said.

Her questions have led the state Department of Health to begin an investigation of those cases.

A federal investigation of crumb rubber also is under way, led by the Environmental Protection Agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

In Snohomish County, opposition to crumb rubber athletic fields has been greatest in Edmonds. It was triggered by a $4.2 million Edmonds School District project to put two synthetic turf athletic fields at the former Woodway High School. The fields opened in September, but the controversy has continued to simmer, led by parents.

In December, the Edmonds City Council approved a ban on the installation of synthetic turf playfields made from crumb rubber on any publicly owned athletic field until July 11, 2017. The action covers school district-owned properties.

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486; salyer@heraldnet.com.

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