A turf war is raging in Edina.
Edina school administrators want to change over four grass sports fields to crumb rubber and replace a fifth that already has that type of synthetic turf, which is filled with tiny black pellets shredded from ground tires. Outcry is coming from hundreds of parents afraid of the potential health risks linked to recycled rubber.
It’s spiraled into a debate about what’s best for kids in the Edina district: giving them chances to kick soccer balls through fresh turf fields, or holding off on a decision until the government can better examine health risks. The decision comes Monday, when the school board votes on a purchase agreement with vendor FieldTurf.
“I know that people around the country are ripping this out and replacing it, so I don’t see why we’re going forward with it if there’s such a level of concern with so many people,” said Clover Hackett, an Edina parent who started the campaign to delay a decision.
Murmurings that carcinogens may be hidden in the black crumb rubber pellets have surfaced nationally since NBC News and ESPN reports last year documented that a number of soccer players in Washington state developed cancer after playing on crumb rubber fields. Some studies have shown the presence of toxins in crumb rubber, and one from Environment and Human Health Inc. in 2015 found carcinogens in crumb rubber fill.
The Environmental Protection Agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other federal agencies started a study on crumb rubber in February in response to the concerns, and they will release a draft report this year. More than 400 supporters have signed a Change.org petition asking the Edina school board to wait to make a decision until then.
Edina schools Superintendent Ric Dressen and his staff maintain that crumb rubber is durable and safe. It’s half as costly as some of the alternatives. Dressen and board members have said that studies examining the health risks so far have been inconclusive.
“In terms of exposure and risk to kids, crumb rubber is not a risk that I view as significant, or public health studies view as being a significant risk,” said board member David Goldstein, who dismissed the concern as a nonissue.
The piece in the spotlight in Edina is turf infill, the part that fills into the fake blades of grass that make up turf.
The dives, scores and dramatic saves popular in soccer kick up black clouds of crumb rubber pellets every time cleats or soccer balls make contact with the infill. These can sneak into mouths, eyelids and sores — especially for goalkeepers who slide more than their teammates.
Four Edina natural grass fields are slated to be replaced with crumb rubber in 2016 and 2017: two near Edina High School and Valley View Middle School, and two across town near the Edina Community Center and South View Middle School. A fifth, Kuhlman Field, already has synthetic turf with crumb rubber infill, but it’s aging and due for replacement.
Nationwide, 98 percent of synthetic turf fields, including those in parks and universities, are filled with crumb rubber, Dressen reported at the April 11 meeting. Neighboring west metro schools including Hopkins, Minnetonka and Wayzata all use crumb rubber fields, he said.
A 2014 Edina task force recommended the field replacement, saying it was difficult for grass fields to rest to get back to safe conditions because of the demand for fields, causing safety risks for players. The district added that it’s aware of the federal study and will go forward with “necessary replacements should conclusive evidence warrant doing so.”
Comfort or concern?
The inconclusive piece is why Edina parent Winnie Martin is in favor of pausing.
“If we waited a little bit, then that’s not such a bad thing,” Martin said.
Board member Amir Gharbi has young children in the district and knows he’ll “be playing soccer with my children on these fields for 18 years,” he said at the April 11 board meeting. He said he was comforted by the studies, saying he hasn’t seen a correlation to any of the scares parents are citing.
Hackett has the opposite take. Her daughter, 7, loves soccer, but she said the family will have to reconsider if Edina’s fields turn to crumb rubber. It’s just too much of a risk, she said.
“We can probably find another sport that she’ll love just as much,” Hackett said.