School board reconsidering crumb rubber; meeting tonight at 5:30

San Juan Island School Board members are reconsidering the use of crumb rubber as an underlayment at the Friday Harbor Elementary School playground. A special school board meeting is scheduled for tonight, 5:30, in the high school library.

The school board is reviewing new information provided by concerned residents.

Fall protection, handicapped accessibility and toxicity levels were topics expressed by about 50 residents on Oct. 29. Crumb rubber, a loose fill material made from crushed tires, serve as the underlayment beneath the new playground structure at the elementary school.

A petition to remove the crumb rubber was signed by 275 island residents. Signatures from four students were not included in the petition.

“We, the undersigned, oppose the use of crumb rubber at the Friday Harbor Elementary School playground," the petition states. "We consider there to be too many known and unknown health risks to young children. To protect the school children, the water supply, school ground and school staff, we are asking the school board to remove this underlayment immediately.”

Jennifer Deshon shared her experiences as a mother of a son with allergies and asthma. Her son had a rash and a severe asthmatic attack on three occasions immediately following exposure to crumb rubber. He was forced to use a nebulizer and heavy doze of medication to improve his respiratory condition.

“He won't be able to go to school there because he won't be able to breathe,” Deshon said.

Cere Demuth asked that the playground be closed until all health and safety factors are considered. She requested the formation of a committee and a mediator to resolve crumb rubber issues.

Bill Arney, an Evergreen State College professor, emphasized the possible health effects of low-dose exposure to the chemicals in crumb rubber. “We are doing a low-dose experiment on our kids,” he said.

“We have to seek a balance,” Kenny Christison said regarding fall protection and exposing children to low dosages of chemicals. He encouraged the board to look at engineered wood fiber as an alternative to crumb rubber.

Handicapped accessibility was the main concern raised by Susan Williamson and Floyd Bourne. Williamson felt that access to only certain parts of the playground was unsatisfactory and unfair to handicapped children. Wheelchair-dependent students can access parts of the equipment by use of a trail.

“It is disrespectful to children with disabilities,” Bourne said.

Shannon Calverley said the depth of the crumb rubber doesn't meet safety standards. She measured the depth of the loose rubber from Oct. 17 to Nov. 4. The average depth was 2.56 inches.

According to George Sushinsky of the American Society for Testing and Materials, “A three- to four-inch depth of loose fill material is not sufficient for a playground surface. The latest U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission handbook recommends a minimum of nine inches of loose fill material to provide protection when material is displace or compacted. Outside of the use zone, the depth of surfacing can be less than that needed within the use zone.”

Sushinsky formerly worked for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission on playground surfacing issues.

School Board member David McCauley assured residents that the board and administration take the issue seriously. He said a massive amount of resources and time have gone into reading comments and reports given by residents.

“None of us like sitting in front of a group of unhappy people. It is a really uncomfortable place to be,” McCauley said.

The board is working hard to make the best informed decision possible. “We are doing the best job we can."

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