OB drafts regs to ban artificial turf with PFAS

Restrictions to be debated by health board on Dec. 14.

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O.B.'s proposed regulations on artificial turf could impact the high school track and field project. — Huntress Associates Inc.

Updated Dec. 13

The Oak Bluffs board of health has drafted regulations that would ban the installation, storage, and dumping of artificial turf containing PFAS. The draft regulations were released Thursday afternoon along with a board of health agenda for Tuesday, Dec. 14, where the regulations will be discussed by the board. 

The proposed regulations come as the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School is proposing a synthetic turf field that’s before the Oak Bluffs planning board after winning a narrow 10-6 victory before the Martha’s Vineyard Commission. The potential of PFAS from the proposed field has been widely debated during more than a dozen public meetings on the field project.

Under a section marked “purpose of regulation,” the draft regulations state: “Whereas the siting of artificial turf has the potential to release PFAS and metals in drinking water supply areas; and these pollutants have repeatedly threatened  surface and groundwater quality throughout Massachusetts; and surface and ground water resources contribute to the Oak Bluffs public drinking  water supplies;  The Town of Oak Bluffs adopts the following regulation…as a preventative measure for the purpose of preserving  and protecting the quality of public drinking water drawn from our sole-source  aquifer and to minimize the risk to public health and the environment.”

The regulations define artificial turf as “any synthetic, carpet-like material made to resemble turf and used as a permanently installed surface for landscaping, pets, sports, putting greens, and playgrounds.”

Amy Houghton, MVRHS school committee chair and project representative, said she hopes there aren’t unintended consequences — that the field isn’t being targeted — especially when there are so many other sources of PFAS on the Island.

“Is the town of Oak Bluffs going to do this for all the septic systems they have?” she asked. “What will this mean for taxpayers and individual homeowners?”

As part of the MVC conditions of approval, two groundwater monitoring wells will be installed downgradient from the synthetic field that will be tested annually for PFAS and other contaminants.

Houghton said the school is prepared to do whatever is mandated by permitting authorities, but noted that independent consultants have already tested turf materials and determined that the levels of PFAS were negligible.

The contaminant threshold in the drafted regulations is one part per million, whereas the results from the lab were represented in parts per trillion, she noted.

“If that’s what the board of health wants to do, I think we will have to come together to see if we can move forward with this project, and at what additional costs?” she said. “At the same time, there will be more delay, and more kids who are not going to be able to run on a track at home or play on a home game field. I wish it could be more about the kids.”

Martha’s Vineyard Commissioner Ben Robinson, who was one of the six votes against the field project, told The Times he was unaware of the regulations. When informed about them he said, “I’m glad they’re doing something about it.”

He went on to say, “Anything to get the school to rethink would be a good one.”

The draft regulations set a standard for being PFAS free at “less than 1 part per million (PPM) total organic fluorine as measured by combustion ion chromatography.” Robinson wondered where and at what point turf would be tested — at the manufacturer at the time of creation or elsewhere at another time. 

Terry Donahue, founder of MV@Play, a group in favor of an artificial field at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, was also unaware of the draft regulations. “That’s something that the school board is going to have to comment on,” Donahue said, declining further comment.

Oak Bluffs Health Agent Meegan Lancaster didn’t immediately respond to an email asking how the proposed regulations would affect the high school field project. 

When asked if she wanted to weigh in on the proposed regulations, Laura Green, Ph.D, a toxicologist who has been at the center of several artificial turf debates on the Vineyard and elsewhere, emailed that she would: “Among other flaws, its premise is incorrect,” Green wrote. “As the Alpha Analytical Labs report showed, many months ago now, the SPLP test — specified by U.S. EPA and relied upon by MassDEP and other experts — in fact showed that leaching of the proposed materials would not compromise the quality of groundwater. The ‘total organic fluorine’ test, in contrast, cannot be used for any such purpose; and is not used for any such purpose.”

George Brennan and Lucas Thors contributed to this story. Updated to include comments from Green.

38 COMMENTS

  1. Well, I can tell you right now that our family is absolutely thrilled to hear this news that the Oak Bluffs Board of Health has done some research and is working hard towards protecting our island’s health and safety. Thank you so much Oak Bluffs!!

    • Just think of all of us who will have to cook, bath and water our veggies in the chemicals needed to maintain a grass football field year after year after year.

      • Oh dear Albert – fortunately you are so wrong about that.
        This will be strong healthy organic grass – nothing bad will be used and nothing bad will enter our groundwater – not even nitrogen.

        • What chemicals will used to to maintain the grass?
          How much will that cost?
          How much water will it take?
          How much will it cost to mow the grass?
          How much will the mowing equipment pollute?

          When ever you seer a nice green lawn there is a chemical truck backing it up.

  2. A smear campaign against Dr Green and her credentials, making up new rules at the end of the game (or setting “conditions” as the OB Board of Health calls it) – nice to see the will of the people & the MVC being completely ignored by OB officials – it’s almost like someone with a personal vendetta is working behind the scenes.

    • You may be right..it certainly appears that some school officials have a vendetta against people who are pro grass. Why else would they ignore the health risks to students and their environment?

      • Susan– I’m not sure how things actually work in the world, but it seems to me that people who have smoked a fair of grass seem to be “pro grass”.
        Perhaps that’s why they are called “prograssives” 😉

        • Don, marijuana “is a complex plant with about 426 chemical entities”.
          “Also, marijuana smoke contains 50 percent to 70 percent more carcinogenic hydrocarbons than does tobacco smoke and has the potential to cause cancer of the lungs and respiratory tract. Marijuana smoke is commonly inhaled deeper and held longer than is tobacco smoke, increasing the lungs’ exposure to carcinogens.”
          ~Aug. 25, 2006 – Mayo Clinic

          There are also pesticides used in the cultivation of marijuana. https://www.beyondpesticides.org/assets/media/documents/watchdog/documents/PesticideUseCannabisProduction.pdf

          “What have you been smoking?” is a good question. It should not be a reasonable part of the turf discussion when talking about the health of children and what harmful chemicals they are exposed to, not even as a joke.

      • People who are pro grass are pro chemical
        There are no grass football fields without health risky chemicals.

    • Hey John— you used the term “the will of the people”. Perhaps I missed something, but far as I know, this never went to a public vote, and public opinion seems to be running strongly against it. This was ” decided” by a group of people who may have been mislead, or had conflicts of interest — I’m not saying it , but “a lot of people” might be thinking that.
      And just to go a little off topic— I am curious as to who you think won the 2020 presidential election ? Just askin’ .

  3. This is great news! This is a key time for the Board of Health and all of OB to consider not only the safety of athletes who play on the turf to the even bigger issue safety of all of us who drink (and cook, bath and water our veggies with) OB water. There’s lots to read out there from people who have tested turf for PFAS (ie https://www.ewg.org/news-insights/news/new-studies-show-pfas-artificial-grass-blades-and-backing) but we also should consider that we are still learning a lot about the damage done by many products in our daily lives — not just artificial sports fields. The consequences of ignoring that emerging information could be detrimental to our children and well beyond.

    • This is a key time for the Board of Health and all of OB to consider the chemicals that will go into our water supply from maintaining the primary football field on the Island.
      We lead a chemical dependent lifestyle.
      Be it grass or synthetic.

  4. Amy Houghton says: “I wish it could be more about the kids”.
    I totally agree with you Amy, and therefore I’m sure you agree that their health is our highest priority.
    Plastic fields get more toxic and brittle when subjected to extreme stresses, such as 160 degree heat, 1000 hours UV radiation annually, raging storms, corrosive salt spray, and extreme friction caused by the cleated shoes and crashing bodies of our teenagers, which gradually reduces the plastic grass blades into micro and nano particle dust.
    This dust gets kicked up by the young players, and gets directly into their blood through skin abrasions and by inhaling. How many hours annually, every year for 4 years straight, would our teenagers thus be unavoidably, fully exposed? New evidence is showing every parent’s nightmare: reproductive abnormalities, infertility, cancer.
    Are we really willing to let our teenagers be the guinea pigs?

    https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2020/01/plastic-additive-linked-to-excessive-reproductive-abnormalities/
    https://www.nationalobserver.com/2021/12/09/news/microplastics-wreak-havoc-human-cells
    https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0304389421025978

  5. What a silly idea. Don’t folks in Oak Bluffs know that PFAS are ubiquitous in rain, snow, and seawater? Does the Board of Health plan to stop the rains and hold back the tides? And don’t they know that “combustion ion chromatography” is useless for determining whether any material will or will not contaminate any aquifer? How many of the residents of Oak Bluffs wear Patagonia, NorthFace, or other “performance” outerwear, which are covered in PFAS side chain polymers? There are good chemists aplenty nearby, at Woods Hole … did anyone ask any of them about any of this? Seems not …

  6. Public health policy should be based on public health science and medicine. This proposed policy is not. Our university, and hundreds of others, have relied on these kinds of playing fields for decades now. Go to Nickerson Field at Boston University, and tell me that it’s toxic. Nonsense. It’s been a synthetic field since at least 1970!

  7. Just because PFAS are ubiquitous doesn’t mean they are safe and it certainly doesn’t mean we should be adding more of them to the environment and, specifically, adding them to our island’s sole source aquifer.

    Numerous PFAS have been linked to many harmful health effects, including cancer, immune system dysfunction, liver damage, developmental and reproductive harm (acceleration of the onset of puberty), and hormone disruption.

    Although there are thousands of PFAS, only a small percentage have been thoroughly studied. Since we know many PFAS are health hazards, wouldn’t it be prudent to wait until the specific PFAS found in the artificial turf project have been proven safe before releasing them in into our aquifer?

    Applying Ms. Elliot’s head-in-the-sand logic to past environmental ubiquitous disasters (DDT, Dioxin, PCBs, Agent Orange, asbestos, etc.) would be to just keep doing it because they are everywhere. The fire on the Cuyahoga river in Cleveland would still be burning today, most of our rivers would be polluted, the air in most American cities would not be breathable and the Environmental Protection Agency would not have been needed nor created.

  8. Dear Mr. Hughes,

    The polymeric PFAS (PVDF-HFP) that is used in manufacturing to extrude polyethylene and other common plastics, is an FDA-approved polymer, used in surgical sutures, implantable meshes, and countless other surgical, medical, and other commercial products.

    These polymers are also used in membranes for ultra-filtration and micro-filtration processes, such as desalination of ocean water to make drinking water.

    These polymers are, chemically, physically, and otherwise entirely distinct from small water soluble PFAS, such as PFOS, PFHxS, and the other MassDEP-regulated, PFAS.

    They cannot dissolve in water and they cannot volatilize in air.

    Fire fighting foams, on the other hand, contain 3% to 6% of PFAS such as PFOS and direct precursors thereto; and these foams are why communities throughout the country and internationally have PFOS- and PFOA-contaminated groundwater.

    Polymers such as PVDF-HFP have never, and can never, dissolve in water, volatilize in air, or otherwise harm the environment or people’s health.

    This was also discussed over many months, at the MVC hearings. Perhaps you did not have the opportunity to attend these meetings.

  9. I wanted to find a contact person on both the school and the the governing board to alert them that there is a relatively new seed mix (6-7 yrs) that incorporates a Native grass for Cape Cod and the islands sold locally by Ace Hardware in Dennis called “Harmony Mix” the native: Deschmpsia flexuosa that is tough and resilient in our Cape & Islands area. MEven if they’re out of it this season, I’d be willing to donate a 15lb bag if I can get it onto a plane to the Vineyard in time for the meeting, or connect with someone who can present the concept that’s a competitive native grass that would be a much safer alternative.

    • Thank you Dr. Alibrandi for offering up solutions to keeping our athletic fields natural grass. There’s no doubt that the folks involved in our school system MEAN WELL. Our school commitee are volunteers as are many coaches and others that are at this fighting for an athletic complex , they have our kids at heart BUT this kind of plastic product is no longer best practice. This plastic field has more downs than ups. We are all in this together . In fact that is the MVRHS slogan “ We are ONE” . So let’s get together and find the solutions for the best grass option. Avoiding legal lawsuits regarding PFAS and our drinking water . Landscape and environmental technology is changing everyday as you point out . We can do this together . We can fundraise if this private donor will only support the project if there a plastic field . We will support the grass solution if we are invited to do so .
      This is about transparency, ethics and being an example of what we need to do help our planet heal and grow , as we head into a time of environmental crisis.

  10. Dear Ms. Green,

    The PFAS environmental disaster in Hoosick Falls, NY that contaminated their water supply was not caused by firefighting foam! Perhaps you haven’t had a chance to read a newspaper.

    • Was it caused by artificial turf?
      It would have been polite to mention the cause.
      In place of your unsubstantiated claim.

      • Mr. Hess, if you read Ms. Green’s response she states: “and these [fire fighting] foams are why communities throughout the country and internationally have PFOS- and PFOA-contaminated groundwater.”

        This statement by Ms. Green is intentionally misleading. She writes this to minimize the source of PFAS contamination and to, by implication, convince the reader that artificial turf is safe. I simply provided one example as proof that her statement was not accurate, i.e. intentionally misleading.

        So let’s do a total analysis of her comment.

        1. “The polymeric PFAS (PVDF-HFP) that is used in manufacturing to extrude polyethylene and other common plastics, is an FDA-approved polymer, used in surgical sutures, implantable meshes, and countless other surgical, medical, and other commercial products.

        These polymers are also used in membranes for ultra-filtration and micro-filtration processes, such as desalination of ocean water to make drinking water. ”

        Comparing the use of these PFAS for medical and filtration purposes to their use for artificial turf fields is like comparing an apple to a rock on the dark side of the moon. That the FDA has approved them for these purposes does not mean they are approved for any and all other purposes. The extreme events to which these chemicals will be subjected in artificial turf — extreme heat, ultraviolet light, incessant pounding — are obviously not present in those FDA approved uses.

        It is important to notice what she doesn’t write: the name of any governmental agency that has actually approved the use of these chemicals in artificial turf.

        2. “They cannot dissolve in water and they cannot volatilize in air.”

        What exactly does this statement mean?

        To dissolve something in water is to create a new solution. Think of sugar added to water. If I pour a spoonful of sugar into a glass of water it will fall and lay on the bottom of the glass. But if I stir the water the sugar will eventually dissolve into the water and it will create a new solution — sugar water. However if I don’t stir the water, the sugar doesn’t dissolve into the water, but it is still in the water laying on the bottom of the glass. And if I drink the water, I will still swallow the sugar even though it is not dissolved in the water. Now imagine the same scenario with sand. The sand will never dissolve but it will still be in the water and if I stir it, it will flow wherever the water flows and if I drink the water I will drink sand.

        If I dump PFAS into my water supply, even though they may not be dissolved, I will be ingesting them when I drink the water.

        To volatilize a chemical in the soil, or in this case, in artificial turf, is to have that chemical become gaseous and airborne like a gas. We call that off gassing. In essence what Ms. Green is telling us is that, if you are standing down wind of the the artificial turf field, you do not need to worry about breathing the PFASs that are in the turf. That may be comforting to some. But what she does not write about is the chance that the PFASs may become pulverized from heat, ultraviolet light and/or the incessant pounding of kids playing on the turf and that those pulverised particles could easily be ingested, inhaled or passed into the water table.

        3. “Fire fighting foams, on the other hand, contain 3% to 6% of PFAS such as PFOS and direct precursors thereto; and these foams are why communities throughout the country and internationally have PFOS- and PFOA-contaminated groundwater.”

        There are numerous instances of PFAS contamination from the manufacturing of PFAS chemicals: Hoosick Falls, NY is merely one of them. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has identified more than 120,000 locations in the U.S. where exposure to PFAS is likely. The facilities on the list represent dozens of industrial sectors with the top ten being: Oil and Gas, Waste Management, Metal coating, Chemical manufacturing, Plastics and resins, Electronics industry, Mining and refining, Metal machinery manufacturing, Printing and Airports. (From The Guardian 10/17/21)

        Again Ms. Green is writing in a misleading manner. She wants the reader to think that the only source of PFAS contamination is fire fighting foam.

        4. “Polymers such as PVDF-HFP have never, and can never, dissolve in water, volatilize in air, or otherwise harm the environment or people’s health.”

        I’ve already discussed the misleading claims regarding dissolving and volatilizing these chemical. But her final phrase “or otherwise harm the environment or people’s health” has no foundation in science. There are more than 4,000 of these chemicals in use. Only a small fraction have been studied. There is no scientific data to support this statement — it’s a fabrication.

        So who is Ms. Green exactly. She has a BS in Chemistry, Doctorate in nutrition and is a board certified toxicologist. She is affiliated with the EPA but has never worked on PFAS for the agency. Primarily she is a paid consultant i.e., she is paid to advocate for her clients. And she is very good at advocating for her clients. She is a paid persuader with a sheen of science.

  11. Groundwater in Hoosick Falls, New York, is contaminated because of discharges from a factory there that used to use PFOA as a surfactant in its manufacturing processes. That contamination there has nothing at all to do with synthetic turf, anywhere.

    • Ms. Elliot you are correct about the source of the PFAS contamination in Hoosick Falls. But you misunderstand my reason for enumerating the variety of ways PFAS have contraminated water in the U.S.

      Ms. Green in her comment litterally claimed that the source of PFAS contaminated water in the U.S. and the world was from fire fighting foam.

      “Fire fighting foams, on the other hand, contain 3% to 6% of PFAS such as PFOS and direct precursors thereto; and these foams are why communities throughout the country and internationally have PFOS- and PFOA-contaminated groundwater.”

      That is a highly misleading statement. Why is it misleading? Because it intentionally leads the reader to conclude that an artificial turf field cannot pollute because the source of all PFAS contamination in the world is from fire fighting foam.

      The fact is this: if PFAS (no matter where or how they are derived) are released into the envrionment, they pollute. If they get into the soil — the soil is contaminated forever. If they get into the ground water — the ground water is contaminated forever.

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