Having spoken to Laura Green, Ph.D., over the past couple of weeks, we understand how proponents of the synthetic turf field became enamored with her. She has an easygoing style as she talks about per- and poly-fluoralykyl substances, more commonly referred to as PFAS.
The conversations have an authentic, down-to-earth feel. Is there anything more relaxed than referring to a couple of reporters as “poo-poo heads,” quoting her grandson?
In her public testimony in support of synthetic turf fields on the Vineyard and elsewhere, Green often downplays the health effects of PFAS. She also warns that septic systems are a greater source of the “forever chemical” than any playing field could ever be, and she often points to other toxic metals, such as lead, that communities should pay attention to instead.
Green’s characterization of PFAS and the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to disavow those comments are troubling, and ultimately led to Nantucket terminating its contract with her. According to Jason Graziadei, a reporter for the Nantucket Current, the school department has hired Weston & Sampson as a consultant in her place.
Green was hired on the Vineyard by Terry Donahue of MV@Play, although that arrangement was never clearly disclosed until our recent reporting on the issue. That’s not OK when you’re talking about a project at a public school.
The lack of transparency on the part of the school department has been disappointing. Assistant Superintendent Richie Smith has at times said the project is being funded by private donors, though he could not reveal them. Later he told the Martha’s Vineyard Commission that the intent is to pay for the project with private donations, but that the school department was waiting for the project to be approved before seeking those donations for the facility.
At the very least, Smith and other school officials should have been more open about Green’s involvement in the project, and who hired her. We’ve seen emails where Green has access to the school’s consultant, Chris Huntress, as well as school officials involved in the project, and yet she was being paid by outside interests.
That should have never happened.
School officials and other proponents of the synthetic turf field looked and acted like they had something to hide — and it appears they did.
For months, Donahue has been calling out the Field Fund, a group advocating for grass fields, saying they’ve provided no expert rebuttal to Green. Green is dealing in science, he would say, while the Field Fund is dealing in “scare tactics.”
We wanted to ask Donahue what he thought of comments made by five scientists before the Oak Bluffs board of health last week, but he didn’t return our call. The experts were brought in to talk about PFAS as the board considers draft regulations that include a potential ban on playing fields that incorporate PFAS.
These scientists were dealing in facts, which could hardly be tossed aside as “scare tactics” that Donahue accuses the Field Fund of dealing in.
But what they said was, indeed, scary. When you’re bringing up toxins such as asbestos and dioxin in the same breath as PFAS, that should get everyone’s attention.
Kyla Bennett, director of science policy for Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, an ecologist and attorney, had no ulterior motive to provide testimony. “We just want to arm Martha’s Vineyard with the facts so you can make the correct decision for your Island, your environment, and your residents,” she said.
Graham Peaslee, a professor of physics at the University of Notre Dame, said, “This is a nationwide problem; it’s not Martha’s Vineyard alone.” He warned that the Vineyard has a “very precious” and “limited” freshwater supply, “and the more PFAS you put into it, the more that you will be drinking, and the more that will show up in you and your children’s blood.”
“You guys are a sandbar,” Kristen Mello, an analytical chemist, PFAS investigator, and city councilor from Westfield, added. “You are a sandbar, and your drinking water comes from the rain. Every drop of PFAS you add to that Island is yours to keep.”
The EPA has distanced itself from Green. We know from emails Green provided to The Times that the EPA is investigating reports that she used her special government employee position to influence projects she’s working on as a paid consultant, including on Martha’s Vineyard, even though she’s never done any work related to PFAS for the federal agency.
After The Times reported on EPA’s concerns with Green, and that the Oak Bluffs board of health was holding a public forum pertaining to PFAS, Green remained actively involved in the behind-the-scenes responses by school officials. In an email obtained by The Times as part of a public records request, Green said of the Oak Bluffs board of health draft regulations, “Well, whatever this ‘PFAS restriction’ is … presumably and logically it must also mean that no (i) new toilets, or (ii) new washing machines, or (iii) additional firefighting foams, or (iv) any other known & well-established sources of PFAS6-discharges to groundwater, to surface water, and/or to ambient air can be permitted in Oak Bluffs … is that really what the town wants? Hmmm … someone’s not thinking straight.”
Even if she’s able to maintain her relationship with the EPA, her association with the Martha’s Vineyard project should be over — just as Nantucket has pulled the plug. She’s lost any credibility she had on the subject.
One final thought on the MVRHS project. Green is right about one thing: The adults in the room have failed the children. It’s time to re-evaluate what is truly best for the Island and for the student-athletes at MVRHS, and get on with improving the playing fields.
YES! Thank you MV Times….
Wait– I can’t get a new toilet ?
A new washing machine ?
The firefighters won’t be able to put out fires ?
And “other” things ?
“Hmmm … someone’s not thinking straight.”
I agree with that and one other thing — someone is using scare tactics.
But if telling people the truth is a “scare tactic” we are in trouble.
That really scares me…
You are speaking the truth!
A quick review of pfas literature will show that the list of pfas containing agents is quite significant but an inconvenient challenge to the singular argument against a turf field. Almost all cosmetics contain pfas. Wash your face and and watch it go straight into the aquifer. Sunscreens. Lord knows nobody uses those on the island and then showers them off straight to the aquifer. How about the miles and miles of piping in all those leaching fields and sprinkler systems. The same piping that the OB board of health keeps approving for septic systems to disperse all of those cosmetics containing pfas and sunscreen straight into the ground. Did I forget to mention shampoo, some toothpastes and shaving cream all straight to the ground. Yes, They contain pfas. Stop flossing. Most floss contains pfas and goes right into those bleeding gums. Your toothbrush has pfas. Paint and varnishes have pfas. No more painting your house or varnishing your brightwork. Let’s tell Gannon and Benjamin no more pfas containing varnish. Let’s ban brake fluid. Yes, that has pfas. How about that plastic coating on those batteries in your super green car. Yes. Pfas there too. Or the carpet in that same “green” car. Those deteriorate every time you step on them.
It’s a shame that there is so much vitriol around this field. I keep asking myself with all the data out there how is it that all the fields still exist. Could it be that others have concluded the risk is de minimus as the Horsley Whitten consultants that the MVC used and the town of OB regularly contracts with have stated?
Baker, You bring up many great points. Its my hope that information like you just offered gets to the decision makers and ultimately leads to less toxic alternatives on all fronts. The pressure needs to come from we consumers. If we refuse to buy these products and demand alternatives then companies respond. My family has found alternatives to most of the issue products you mentioned but, it takes a little effort and willingness. Consumers must demand it though and letting our elected officials know that we want something better is also important. This field holds the space and sets a precedent for the future. Blessings
From an Environmental Protection Agency press release on November 21, 2021:
“Under our new PFAS Strategic Roadmap, EPA is moving aggressively on clear, robust, and science-based actions to protect communities suffering from legacy PFOA and PFOS contamination,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “This action will ensure a rigorous review from experienced scientists to strengthen our understanding of this preliminary information as the agency works toward developing revised health advisories for PFOA and PFOS, and soon establishing regulations that protect communities from these contaminants. . . .”
“EPA will not wait to take action to protect the public from PFAS exposure. The agency will be actively engaging with its partners regarding PFOA and PFOS in drinking water, including supporting their monitoring and remediation efforts.”
So right now, using its authority under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, EPA is setting up advisory counsels to determine whether existing views on “safe levels” of PFAS in our drinking water are outmoded and should be lowered because of new science about its toxicity to humans. At a very minimum, Dr. Green’s views appear to be out of date and outside the mainstream of the scientific community. Dr. Green’s arguments, as quoted in this piece, boil down to: “Sure PFAS is bad but it’s already in everything so why not just install another big (expensive) chunk of turf containing it on an island with a single aquifer from which we all drink.” This does not sound like a winning argument, so why are our school committee members and school officials buying it?
The fluoropolymer at issue — PVDF-HFP — is an entirely different chemical. It is nothing like PFOA, PFOS, or the other Massachusetts DEP-regulated PFAS. PVDF-HFP is FDA-approved for use in surgery; and PVDF-HFP is used to, among other things, coat the blades of wind turbines, so that they encounter less resistance when spinning in the air. Dr. Green is apparently being misunderstood. That’s OK. The details of organic fluoro-chemistry aren’t easy to communicate. People tend to talk past each other.
Re “PVDF-HFP is used, among other things, to coat the blades of wind turbines, . . .”
Interesting. I didn’t know that. Will the blades shed PFAS into the ocean?
This application of PFAS increases the already considerable disposal challenge posed by these giant blades down the road.
How much energy will be required to dig holes large enough to bury the blades, then somehow remove the PFAS from them in a fashion that doesn’t put them (the PFAS) into the environment? Or, to reprocess the blades in some fashion so that the materials can be reused—ditto for keeping the PFAS out of the natural environment?
Points to ponder concerning the true costs of green renewable energy.
BTW, Green’s “poo-poo heads” comment is maybe a Freudian slip?
Because she is the one pooh-poohing the dangers of adding more PFAS to our environment.
Is this a news article Or a smear campaign. I wonder what side of the argument the times is on. This is supposed to be a newspaper reporting news. Not taking sides or smearing peoples names. This should be an editorial piece not a news article.
Someone else want to tell Asa or should I? It’s labeled “editorial” and is under the header “opinion.”
Asa…look up the definition of editorial, it might answer your concern.
Umm…nah, to easy…
Think of it as you are borrowing from mother nature and how would she want it returned.
As we have been learning from climate change.
Yet many twist the truth and facts for $$$$.
Such a waste of money and time. Sad that they were looking to profit off the island children and polluting their futures health and environment.
Boston University’s Nickerson Field has been synthetic since the 1970’s. That’s where Mr. Ewell Hopkins and his BU classmates ran track and played field sports. Has he lobbied BU to remove that field? If not, why not?
I don’t know where you went to college, or if you played sports there. But surely you know that countless universities’, colleges’, and high schools’ fields, here and in Europe, are plastic grass, not natural grass. Have any of these plastic fields ever contaminated any aquifers, anywhere? If so, please publish the data. If not, and if you don’t want a plastic grass field at your high school, fine. That’s your right. But please don’t pretend that it’s because you’re genuinely concerned about aquifer contamination. Please just tell the truth, and let the chips fall where they may. Oh wait, that’s all already happened. I have read, in your newspaper, that the Martha’s Vineyard Commission approved the field, 10 votes to 6 votes. Do you think that the MVC vote was fraudulent? Is the MVC majority in bed with the plastic grass industry? If so, again, please publish evidence. That’s what readers of newspapers want to see.
Yes indeed those were some special years back in the 1970’s. I did an interview about a decade ago speaking to those days and the lessons I learned. See – https://youtu.be/K7WBNq5tE6c
Specifically to your question, yes my family and I have publicly spoken to the issue of Nickerson’s field and more generally to the role of BU athletics as an aspect of the university experience. I encourage you to research BU’s decision to terminate the football program in the early 80’s. Too much to cover here but happy to discuss with you in a public forum at another date.
The review of the MV High School Sports Complex application is far more involved than the playing surface of one field. I hope you will visit the application section on the town website in the weeks to come, look out for a new tab which will bring you to the Special Permit currently underway. https://www.oakbluffsma.gov/412/High-School-Track-and-Field
Not sure where you get your information. As reported by The Nantucket Inquirer and Mirror, “An e-mail from [Nantucket] schools superintendent Beth Hallett’s office said Green’s consulting contract simply expired Dec. 17.”
It seems to me that the story on The Vineyard is about sore losers wanting to overturn the will of the majority of the voting members of the MVC. It’s not really about science; and it’s certainly not about whether it’s appropriate for private sports boosters to hire me or any other scientific consultant. What it’s really about whether democracy does or does not matter.
In my blue collar town of Hull, in 2019, we had supporters and detractors of a proposed synthetic turf field-project for our high school. We voted on this matter, as all small towns in Massachusetts are supposed to do, at our Town Meeting. The supporters won (868 votes in favor, 336 opposed). The high school got a synthetic turf field; and now, two years and many games later, pretty much everyone, including many who had been opposed to it, are happy that it’s there.
I do not care whether your high school does or does not get a synthetic field. I do care that your high school athletes, coaches, teachers, and administrators are treated with the respect that they deserve. That’s what we do here in Hull. Please feel free to visit us.
Hull a blue collar town? Maybe 20 years ago. That you refer to Hull as blue collar tells me all I needed fo know about you…
During the height of the roundabout hysteria, those passionately against it also made inappropriately disparaging remarks against the widely respected MVC director, because he was a proponent, based on his knowledge and experience.
I don’t understand the science, the relativity to everyday exposure from everyday sources, nor the benefits vs the detriments in this instance, but if I had a vote and armed myself with as much information that I could understand, I would probably still come down on the side of natural grass— but without these disgusting personal attacks against this woman. Just stop.
Amen. Could not agree more, Jim. Hull is not, nor has it ever been, “blue collar.” Is Dr. Green trying to get some weird kind of “street cred” here? Why?
For the record, as of 2018, Hull’s median income was $80,584. Chilmark’s was $79,688. And OB’s was $66,091. Isn’t Dr. Green supposed to be a researcher? I’m a mere googler.
Her comments to the Times reporters, and her comments in this discussion, are quite “off putting.” Certainly not the words or demeanor of a professional scientist with whom we are being asked to place our trust.
Dr. Green, when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging. You might hit PFAS.
Again, not a word about her expertise or even the turf vs grass, but plenty to say about nothing relevant. When you find yourself facing a posse intent on disparaging a person’s life’s work, don’t jump on the nearest horse, especially if it’s a high one.
Objecting to an older female scientist’s “demeanor” as a reason to disparage her life’s work falls into the area of sexism and ageism. That’s what is off-putting. Stop it. Wonder what Vicki has to say about Einstein’s “demeanor”? Ridiculous.
There are many blue collar jobs that pay over $80K a year. Show me an island electrician or plumber who makes under that, lol.
Hull is 50+percent blue collar.
My relatives have lived there 40 years.
Have you ever been?
By my count, that’s now three articles that you’ve published making nasty claims about Dr. Green. She’s a 67 year old Jewish grandmother of three. So, what gives? Sexism? Ageism? Anti-semitism? Or just really slow news weeks on your Island paradise? If I subscribed to your newspaper, I’d cancel my subscription.
Paula, some years back, this island went berserk over the proposed construction of a traffic roundabout to replace a blinking light and a traffic mess at that intersection. The passion, bumper stickers, demonstrations, and angst and, yes, personal attacks against proponents went on for years… until it was finally built, with very good results. There were claims this small traffic circle would ruin the character of the island and cause traffic jams miles away. The personal attacks got way out of hand then, too, mostly by people who knew zero about traffic management. Very sad to again see these kinds of unfair and unfounded attacks against Dr Green. Some islanders seem to like to conjure up evil when they are looking for a scapegoat on a subject that raises questions and seems scientifically unresolved to frightened parents.
I am an MIT-trained environmental engineer who worked with Dr. Laura C. Green for 11 years. Working along side her, as one of her Senior Engineers, I focused on modeling the atmospheric and multi-pathway (i.e., food chain) transport of environmental contaminants from their sources to potential human and ecological receptors. The goal of this modeling was the quantitative assessment of hazards and risks to human and ecological health. Dr. Green is a terrific scientist and a thoroughly decent human being. Have you ever even met her? Worked with her? Oh wait … maybe you’re writing about someone else entirely. Sure seems like it me.
I have known Laura Green for many decades. She’s a very good scientist, a very good person, and calls it like she sees it. She likes facts, numbers, chemistry, nature, and sports. If you knew her, you wouldn’t be writing what you are writing. It’s people like you who give journalism a bad name.
Know before Whom you stand.
Dear Mr. Brennan,
CIA Director John Brennan was, famously, a hot headed man who shot first and thought second. He was also, arguably, antisemitic and misogynistic.
Here in Brookline, MA, we have three artificial playing fields, and many natural fields. We researched the artificial ones thoroughly before approving their construction. We care deeply about our environment and about the health and safety of our students. Don’t all of us? Your accusations seem to be based on something other than the facts.
“Green was hired on the Vineyard by Terry Donahue of MV@Play, although that arrangement was never clearly disclosed until our recent reporting on the issue. That’s not OK when you’re talking about a project at a public school.” Not true. Donahue first contacted Green to ask if she could advise on the field-proposal in November of 2016. This was no secret. Where were you?
The Field Fund is a dishonest group that doesn’t like to lose.
Where’s your investigation into them?
Their scientific credentials?
Maybe the Boston Globe would be more interested.
Call the Spotlight Team!
Where is Marc’s investigation into them?
His scientific credentials?
In what way has U.S. EPA disavowed Dr. Green? Didn’t you write just a few days ago that she had asked to resign from her Special Government Employee status with EPA, but that the Agency asked her to stay? So, which is it? And why does it matter anyway? The MVC has voted, and it’s clear to everyone paying attention that, for whatever unstated reasons, the three man Oak Bluffs Board of Health, being spectacularly misled by Ms. Meegan Lancaster, is on a mission to “overturn the election.” Rather Trump-like, don’t you think?
The high school kids, their coaches, their parents seem to all want the fields.
Ewell Hopkins, the Field Fund, Meegan Lancaster, and a handful of others do not.
What is happening here?
What’s the REAL STORY?!
It’s the Conservatives versus the Liberals.
The Luddites versus Progressives.
Everyone wants the fields.
It is just a matter of what kind and cost.
It takes so many chemicals, and so much money, to keep grass green.
That’s the real story.
You may have noticed that I am a co-author with Laura Green on material provided to the MVC and others on the proposed synthetic turf field. I have been working with Laura for 40+ years now, and know her to always present the science, no matter the audience or the sponsor. This editorial appears to be attempting to blame her for the sins – quite likely imaginary – of others (in sequence, Terry Donahue, the school department, Richie Smith, other school officials); but of course this has no bearing whatever on her credibility, which is not diminished in the slightest by such smears. If you have any scientific evidence that contradicts what Laura and I have provided, we would be delighted to examine it – indeed, you should have provided it to the MVC; but you haven’t and didn’t, so you resort to editorials like this one.
To the Editors:
“It’s time to re-evaluate what is truly best for the Island and for the student-athletes at MVRHS, and get on with improving the playing fields.”
Really? After, oh I don’t know, maybe six years of debate, tens of thousands of dollars in testing, countless hours of public testimony, private deliberation, hard work by the MVC and its staff … NOW it’s time to “re-evaluate”? Says who? Why? Are you saying that this should go to Town Meeting? Then why wasn’t it put there years ago? Something’s smells fishy …
So many people are so unhappy about this.
The simple way to solve this is is to use no chemicals.
Plastic grass or real grass chemicals.
Keep our kids off chemicals.
Just say no to football.
To the Oak Bluffs Board of Health:
If you really think that PVDF-HFP, dioxin, and cigarettes pose equal threats to people’s health … well, all I can say is that I’m glad that you’re not my Board of Health. Even my fourth grader knows that this cannot be true. And she’s a C student.
“It seems to me that the story on The Vineyard is about sore losers wanting to overturn the will of the majority of the voting members of the MVC. ”
Does Green actually l think she is qualified to make such assessments—of “the will of the majority” of MVC members— as though this were a bedrock concept of democracy and she were a constitutional lawyer of some kind?
This sentence is to me a further flag of Green’s wrong attitude toward her role here on the Island. Other parts of the comment reveal her as a flag waver and apologist for artificial turf, biased in favor of turf and pushing a turf agenda on behalf of one group.
Furthermore, who is she to lecture Vineyarders on their supposed (by her) attitudes toward teachers, administrators, and high school athletes?
Just more unprofessional, over-reaching, self-serving twaddle.
Get her out of the official debate ASAP!
And let’s just bear in mind that the PFAS are not the only environmental problem raised by the school’s plan. It has just used up most the oxygen.
Plus, there are other issues with the design that don’t bear specifically on the environment.
Katherine, Dr Green is certainly more entitled to respond to the posse disputing her knowledge and ethics than, say, a vocal antivaxer is entitled to give her opinions on anything that requires actual knowledge of science. Just cut it out. Let the people who understand the actual science being debated duke it out. There’s no question that Dr Green is a well respected, intelligent person.
It’s really sad to see so many unfounded attacks against Dr Green being piled on. Thank you to those responding here who know her and her dedicated, important work in her field.
It seems to me that the story on The Vineyard is about sore losers.
I grew up near Hull and I am not sure how “blue collar” it is, nor why we should care. But as you say of Hull in 2019: “We voted on this matter, as all small towns in Massachusetts are supposed to do, at our Town Meeting.”
Yes, you are correct, that is how local governments in Massachusetts decide important matters — direct democracy by vote of the majority at town meeting.
I am glad the good people of Hull were able to vote by majority rule and, in their case, chose a synthetic field. But towns on the Vineyard have not had the chance to vote at town meeting on our high school turf initiative. Private interests and school officials have made every decision, and the MVC supported it by 10-6 vote, with conditions. A bit more direct democracy at the town level would be nice here. Officials in each town should figure out a way, procedurally, to bring it to the voters. Yes Dr. Green, democracy does matter.
Dear Ms. Divoll,
Thank you for your thoughtful comments.
It occurs to me that the fundamental political problem might be this.
As I understand it, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission is a voting board with representatives all of the towns on the Vineyard.
The regional high school teaches students from all of the towns on the Vineyard.
I had thought that the MVC, through its Development of Regional Impact hearings process, was exercising its representational democratic right by voting on behalf of all of the towns.
My part in all of this was to assess whether the proposed project would or would not harm health and/or the environment, including, of course, the aquifer.
As shown by extensive testing of the proposed field-materials, the answer is no. This is my opinion as a board-certified toxicologist. If the data had shown otherwise, my opinion would have been otherwise.
Moreover, the only testing for PFAS on the Vineyard was of the proposed synthetic field-materials, and not of the natural grass and dirt field currently at the regional high school. All such fields do in fact contain varying, non-zero concentrations of several of the six MassDEP-regulated PFAS.
At my suggestion, the Nantucket Public Schools did test samples of soil at their current playing field, both for heavy metals (such as arsenic and lead) and for PFAS. The test-results can be found in the laboratory reports, posted here
It is unfortunate that this issue has caused so much rancor on the Vineyard. I wish you, and all of those who live there, a peaceful resolution.
Yes – and this appears to be much bigger than one person’s testimony, expert or not. During the summer of 2020 the towns’ Finance Committees – folks elected by the voters – requested as a group to meet with high school officials and the superintendent to discuss the financial ramifications of this large project. Hardly Town Meeting, but still a group diverse in perspective. This was well before any decision was made. However, we were refused – twice. That unwillingness to discuss the merits is by itself indication of a dysfunctional approach to decision-making by a public body. That, plus misleading statements over the course of the project’s many public discussions should be enough for all to wonder whether there is an underlying, obscured agenda.
The average value of a single family residence in Hull indicates that it is a very blue collar town.
I write as the Underwood-Prescott Professor in the Department of Biological Engineering and a joint faculty member in the Department of Chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. I have been a member of the MIT Faculty since 1962. I was the Director of the MIT Division of Toxicology, and subsequently the Co-Director of the Division of Bioengineering and Environmental Health. As a longstanding member of the American Chemical Society I also was a Founder of the Division of Chemical Toxicology, and I was graced with the Award on Chemistry in Cancer by the American Association of Cancer Research.
Laura C. Green was my PhD student in the 1970’s. One of my research projects at that time was on the health effects of nitrate, and Laura took that on. Her research uncovered a major new field of biology, that a small molecule made in the body, nitric oxide, was a key to understanding a mystery in cardiac physiology and also was a key component in inflammation, and in signaling in the brain. This work was published in the major scientific journals, such as Science and PNAS, along with her related analytical chemistry paper, which has been cited by other research scientists more than 12,000 times. This type of record does not happen by chance.
After leaving my lab, Laura was a top candidate for an academic position. Instead, she opted to do Postdoctoral work at the Harvard School of Public Health because of her intense interest in chemical safety. Her work throughout has been at the highest levels of rigor, honesty, and self-criticism.
I have reviewed the presentation that Dr. Green made to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission on March 3, 2021. I found it to be comprehensive, analytical, and informative in assessing the exposures to, and the risks from, both natural grass and synthetic turf for the playing fields. She relied on data and logic, just as I have taught all of my MIT students to do.
I would advise the citizens of MV to accept the considered scientific opinion of Dr. Green.
Comments are closed.