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.