As revealed during the 2015 referendum, the Edina School District desperately wants to be like other school districts. Rather than forging its own path, as Edina has done for decades as it has become a leader in K-12 education, the District is now instead officially a follower engaged in a tireless quest to copy what it calls its “peer” school districts from around the country. Indeed, in public comments, the District flaunts the administration’s frequent trips to California, Nebraska and Illinois to learn how to better copy other schools.
It should come as no surprise, then, that the District is following other school districts in contracting, by an April 25th vote, to spend well over $2,000,000 to install synthetic turf on four of the District’s athletic fields, including two brand new fields within the flood plain of Nine Mile Creek. This time, however, the District’s desire to keep up with its peers is risking the health and safety of its students, staff and city residents as well as hundreds of thousands of people living downstream within the Nine Mile Creek Watershed.
As part of the 2015 referendum, the District proposed installing two new turf fields below the high school, on the very shores of Nine Mile Creek. Confronted with the fact that the current fields are often flooded by the Creek, the District pointed out that they intended to replace the current grass fields with synthetic turf because the turf has better longevity and the turf drains much better. At the time, the District refused to disclose what chemicals the proposed synthetic turf would contain, claiming that they did not have the funds to answer those kinds of questions. The District said that we had to pass the referendum to find out what was in the referendum.
Now that we have given the District $124.9 million in new tax levies, the District has revealed its plan to install a type of synthetic turf, called crumb rubber, that the EPA and other federal agencies say contains arsenic, chromium, lead, acetone, benzene, mercury and halogenated flame retardants. Crumb rubber, which is essentially tiny rubber pellets dumped on the synthetic turf to make it softer, is comprised of ground up waste tires. The District contends that crumb rubber is completely safe and poses no risk to our children and the environment, yet the EPA says “existing studies do not comprehensively evaluate the concerns about health risks from exposure to tire crumb.” Preliminary results from a comprehensive federal study are expected by year-end. Never mind the truth, the District wants to be just like its “peer” school districts regardless of the risks and regardless of the costs.
Alternative organic (cork) fill materials for synthetic turf are available, even from the contracted vendor FieldTurf, but were not chosen by the Board.
Board reactions to health concerns
What about the concerns noted by such federal agencies as the EPA, the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Consumer Product Safety Council (CPSC) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)? For example, NIOSH warns workers handling crumb rubber to be careful not to have crumb rubber touch their skin. Apparently, the District has concluded that it’s okay for our kids to roll around in the stuff while playing soccer. Don’t worry, as school board member David Goldstein says “In terms of exposure and risk to kids, crumb rubber is not a risk that I view as significant.” Oh good, one of the several lawyers on the Edina School Board does not personally view the risk to our children and the environment as “significant.” Attorney Goldstein, a labor and employment lawyer, rejects the concerns of numerous federal agencies as well as hundreds of parents and Edina residents as a non-issue; too bad that lawyer Goldstein is not an environmental toxicologist whose personal opinions might have some validity.
When asked about the District’s plan, Superintendent Ric Dressen acknowledges that crumb rubber has not been shown to be safe, but then again, he points out, it hasn’t been shown to be dangerous either. So, faced with inconclusive evidence of the safety of its plan, the District chooses peer pressure over child safety, planning to press forward with its plan to install turf on four fields, two at the Edina Community Center and two at the high school. When pressed further, Dressen notes that “we can always tear up the fields” in 2017 when the studies are completed. That is the District’s plan?
We are going to spend $712,761.99 just for the turf surface of a single field at the high school that the district thinks might have to be “torn out” in a year? Remember that the three-quarters-of-a-million dollars for one of the fields at the high school is just the cost of the turf and does not include the additional hundreds of thousands of dollars slated for soil preparation, utilities and other infrastructure planned for each of the fields. The District says that it “can’t” wait for the studies to come out because so many other school districts have rushed ahead to put in crumb rubber that we are falling desperately behind. Never mind our kids’ safety, California schools are putting this stuff in so we have to keep up.
Costs of tear out not included
The District also admits that its “tear out” plan does not include any of the costs of abating the environmental contamination from mercury, lead and arsenic that may leach from the turf into Nine Mile Creek. Evidently, the District thinks that replacing synthetic turf is like rolling back a piece of carpet – you just roll it up and roll down a replacement carpet. The problem is that when contaminants like mercury, lead, chromium, arsenic and benzene are released into the ground, the soil captures some of these contaminants and they slowly leach into the groundwater over many years. This delayed contaminate release is why there are so many Superfund sites around the country. Recall that the crumb rubber has already been proven to contain a toxic chemical stew of heavy metals, carcinogens and neuro-toxins. According to studies by the NIH, scrap tires leach “significant” levels of contaminants, and the smaller the chips are, the greater the volume of contaminants they leach. The tiny little scrap tire pellets that the District wants to install are virtually guaranteed to leach environmentally-damaging chemicals directly into the ground water, which flows straight into Nine Mile Creek, the Minnesota River, the Mississippi River and, ultimately, the Gulf of Mexico.
If the EPA or other environmental agencies find that Edina’s shiny new turf is leaching these heavy metals, volatile organic chemicals and toxic chemicals into the soil under these fields, the EPA will order the Edina Public Schools to dig up that contaminated soil, treat it and replace it with uncontaminated soil. Just the cost of the environmental repair that may result from the District’s fervent desire to fit in with its “peers” could easily eclipse the entire cost of the 2015 referendum. But don’t worry, the Board does not find the health risks identified by the EPA, NIH, the CDC and other agencies to be “significant.” I hope that makes you feel better.