School Board considers adding signs at turf fields to address crumb rubber concerns

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The Edmonds School District Board of Directors during its Tuesday, Jan. 24 meeting took note of a Washington State Department of Health study released last week that reviewed the rates of cancer in soccer players and a suggested connection to playing sports on artificial fields filled with tire crumb rubber.

The study found no direct correlation between playing on crumb rubber fields and the cancer rate among soccer players. But it did include some safety recommendations for people looking to “reduce their kids’ exposure to chemicals found in crumb rubber.”

As a result, the school board Tuesday night discussed the possibility of putting signs around its schools’ fields indicating good habits for athletes who regularly play on crumb rubber fields, as an added measure of safety.

On an FAQ page related to the study, the Department of Health included this statement: “Assurance of the safety of artificial turf with crumb rubber are limited by the lack of adequate information on potential toxicity and exposure.” Later in the FAQ, the department offers suggestions for people looking to “reduce their kids’ exposure to chemicals found in crumb rubber.”

Those suggestions include things like washing hands after contacting crumb rubber, not to swallow any crumb rubber pieces that get in an athlete’s mouth and removing sports equipment outside to avoid tracking crumb rubber into the house.

“What we know now is, these are the recommendations (by the Department of Health),” School Board Member Carin Chase said.

Board Member Ann McMurray said she recalled similar recommendations from artificial turf field manufacturers. She would like to review those guidelines and compare them to those listed by the Department of Health.

However, not all board members immediately favored the possibility of adding signs.

“I think we should wait until we get more information,” Board Member Diana White said. The federal Environmental Protection Agency is in the middle of a larger study on the effects of crumb rubber, and she would rather wait to see that study before the Board makes the decision to invest in signs.

Chase said its important for students playing on fields today to know the information that is out there today.

“Right now, we have manufacturer safety data and recommendations from the Department of Health,” she said. “That information should be available to those choosing to participate in activities on these fields.”

The safety of crumb rubber has been a subject of local debate for a few years. After some community members protested the Edmonds School Board’s decision to use crumb rubber infill on sports fields at the Woodway Campus, the Edmonds City Council in December 2015 passed an 18-month ban on public athletic fields made with the material. The ban is scheduled to end this summer, so the Edmonds City Council and staff will be meeting soon to discuss whether to let the ban expire or extend it.

Edmonds parent Laura Johnson — who founded the group Washington Alliance for Non-Toxic Play and Athletic Fields and actively lobbied against the installation of crumb rubber fields in Edmonds– said she believes the state study is incomplete and more research needs to be done.

“Our concern is that most of the public will look at the headline and will take-away that crumb rubber is safe,” Johnson said. “However, this is not what this study determined.” Johnson pointed to the remarks of the study’s author, Washington State Health Department epidemiologist Cathy Wasserman, that the Department of Health investigation “was not designed to discover the causes of cancer …. nor was it designed to explore crumb rubber exposure as a cause. Instead, its purpose was to look at whether cancer occurred at a higher rate among soccer players than among all Washington residents in the same age group.”

“We encourage further study on the the safety and health effects of children playing on a material containing known toxic substances, yet lacking a long-term epidemiological study,” Johnson added.

The Edmonds School District currently uses tire crumb rubber on multiple fields, including Edmonds District Stadium which hosts both high school football and soccer games. Last year, the Board elected to add turf fields containing crumb rubber to Mountlake Terrace and Meadowdale high schools. School Board Member Carin Chase said it’s important for students playing on fields today to know the information that is out there today.

“Right now, we have manufacturer safety data and recommendations from the Department of Health,” Chase said. “That information should be available to those choosing to participate in activities on these fields.”

Both student advisers from Mountlake Terrace had other ideas for the signs. Danielle Strohl suggested that, instead of posting a list of suggestions, they post one or two of the most basic suggestions and add a URL for a web page that contains the most up-to-date information. That way, signs can be put up now, and possibly updated in the future.

Plus, she said, people who are concerned about crumb rubber will likely want to know more background information than can fit on a sign.

Strohl also suggested possibly starting with smaller signs made of laminated paper to hang in the locker rooms, so that the district doesn’t spend a lot of money on something that will need to be replaced in the future.

“That way, when new information comes, we can consider getting a real sign,” she said.

Stephi Smith suggested that if signs get posted, they go up near the grass fields as well as the artificial fields.

“I think posting a sign now is a good idea,” she said. “But if you only post them on the synthetic turf fields, it might seem like those are more dangerous than the other fields.”

She also said it is good practice to wash up and change your clothes after playing on dirt anyway.

Before making a decision on whether or not to add signs, the School Board would like to take a closer look at the manufacturer’s instructions for safety with crumb rubber, as well as see how other districts are responding to the new study.

“This is not something that is not a big deal,” Chase said. “I want to make sure these people have this information if they want to reduce their exposure.”

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