Update: City staff were unable to put the playfields on the May 30 work session agenda, so further discussion will be delayed until the June 5 meeting.
The Lynnwood City Council decided during its meeting Monday that they need more time to review information about infill materials before voting whether to award a bid to Hellas Construction for the Meadowdale Playfields project renovation.
Councilmembers will further discuss the project during a business meeting on Monday, June 5.
If the council decides to change the recommendation already given to and signed by the City of Edmonds and the Edmonds School Board, the new recommendation would need to be signed by all three entities before June 18, which is when the bid expires. If the bid is allowed to expire, the project would be delayed, which could also cause the project to lose grant money awarded on the contingency that the project be completed in a certain time frame.
According to the low bid by Hellas Construction, Inc., both alternate infills would add cost to the project. Coated crumb rubber would cost an additional $66,900. Natural cork infill would cost an extra $357,000.
The Edmonds School Board, as the owners of the property where the Meadowdale Playfields are located, gets final approval of any design or material used.
The school board passed a resolution approving the base bid for the project, including the use of crumb rubber, during its meeting on May 9. The board further discussed crumb rubber during its meeting on May 23. There are currently eight fields in the district that use crumb rubber as infill, including Lynnwood High School and Meadowdale High School.
A group of about a dozen activists held a rally outside Lynnwood City Hall before Monday’s meeting. The Lynnwood City Council made the decision to wait and further discuss the infill material after over one hour of public testimony regarding the playfields on Monday. Most comments were from residents concerned about chemicals found in SBR, better known as crumb rubber. Everyone who spoke agreed the fields need renovating, but had differing opinions on what materials should be used.
Marilyn Dauer, of Edmonds, told a story about her 4-year-old grandson playing t-ball on a turf field in Issaquah. As 4-year-olds do, he and his friends began throwing pieces of the field at each other and rolling around. Then, her grandson came up to bat.
“He got up and he was covered with this black stuff,” Dauer said. “It looked like ground up Oreo cookies. It was on his face and on his arms and on his legs. I went over and was trying to brush him off and I asked someone what is this stuff, and they said that’s crumb rubber.”
She said she’s concerned about the crumb, because it’s made from ground-up tires.
“I think anything that you can’t put in a landfill… I think there’s a concern about a substance like that, taking that and turning it into a playing field,” Dauer said.
Several other comments came from heads of sports organizations looking forward to playing on a new field, regardless of the infill material.
“I can tell you with absolute certainty that we are in desperate need of some fields,” Brad Sturgill, president of Pacific Little League, said. “My son has played at the University of Washington baseball field for several years during camps and things and, yes, he gets the black crumb stuff on him, and that’s fine. It’s just as easy to get off of them as mud.”
The city also received 41 letters of support regarding the award of the construction contract as is, with crumb rubber used as the infill material. Two letters did not support the use of crumb rubber.
Before deciding to table the contract award, Lynnwood City councilmembers offered emotional testimony regarding the use of crumb rubber. Councilmember M. Christopher Boyer shared his experiences with doctors endorsing their favorite brands of cigarettes because it was, at one point in time, considered healthy to smoke. Thalidomide was at one time prescribed to pregnant women suffering from morning sickness, which was later discovered to cause birth defects.
“Everything I hear about crumb rubber troubles me deeply,” Boyer said. “I cannot endorse a solution that includes crumb rubber.”
Council Vice President Ruth Ross said she strongly supports renovating the fields, but also questions the use of crumb rubber.
“We have a responsibility to ensure that those fields are safe,” Ross said. “I fully intended to hear support for those fields and to say okay, we can do this. I no longer feel that way.”
She urged the council and involved parties to find a solution quickly so the project can move forward in a timely manner.
Other councilmembers felt strongly they should advance the project as is. Councilmember Shannon Sessions listed several products that are known to be bad for kids, including sugar, red dye, mold, social networking, secondhand smoke and cell phones, among other items.
“There is no study showing that crumb rubber is worse than any of those things I mentioned,” she said. “Hundreds and hundreds of families are going to benefit from these fields. It’s irresponsible for us to put in a cork field when we don’t even know how it’s going to wear.”
Council President Benjamin Goodwin said he has three children under the age of 9, and that two of the best things he can do to help his kids stay healthy are to limit their sugar intake and allow them to exercise. “That’s what we’re trying to do,” he added.
The council voted 5-1 to table the discussion, with Sessions casting the dissenting vote. Councilmember Ian Cotton recused himself from the vote and previous discussion because his employer, Stantec, is doing design work for the project.
During its meeting on Tuesday, May 23, the Edmonds School Board further discussed the use of crumb rubber. Board Member Carin Chase felt the topic warranted further discussion because of concerns raised the community.
“I think it’s imperative that we proceed with caution,” she said.
Other board members did not agree.
“You know what I hear from parents? Why don’t you fix Meadowdale’s field,” Board Member Diana White said. Due to rain-soaked grass play fields, Meadowdale’s softball team “played zero home games this year,” White said. “They’re the defending state champions and they played zero home games this year.”
Board Member Gary Noble said nothing has changed since the district decided to use crumb rubber on its most recent field upgrades.
“My decision was based on two factors,” he said. “One, crumb rubber does not appear to actually have a problem even though there are perceptions of problems. And two, the alternatives cost more.”
Noble referenced recent studies by the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) indicating that crumb rubber use does not result in a higher cancer risk, and a study by the Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation that shows risks “at or below 1 in a million,” according to the Everett Herald.
Critics of the studies say the DOH’s sample size was too small for a viable result and the study looked at specific players rather than evaluated the cancer risks from playing on crumb rubber in general. The Cal Ripken study was reported by the Everett Herald, but the study itself has not been published by the foundation, nor has it been peer reviewed.
The Environmental Protection Agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Consumer Product Safety Commission are conducting a broad, joint study reviewing the potential hazards of crumb rubber. An update on the study is expected later this year.
The Lynnwood City Council will further discuss the issue during its meeting on Monday, June 5. The meeting begins at 7 p.m. at Lynnwood City Hall, 19100 44th Ave. W.
At the end of Monday’s City Council meeting, Cotton requested the council discuss banning the use of crumb rubber in the city limits of Lynnwood sometime before the end of July. He submitted a ban now in effect in the city of Edmonds as a model for the council to review.
–Story and photos by Natalie Covate