Experts disagree on field findings

Bennett faults Huntress statements; Huntress defers to Tetra Tech.

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Landscape architect Chris Huntress, left, and attorney/scientist Kyla Bennett, right, don't see eye to eye on high school field project PFAS issues. —file photo/screenshot — Gabrielle Mannino

Kyla Bennett, director of science policy for Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), has alleged materials for the proposed synthetic field at Martha’s Vineyard High School have already failed per- and poly-fluoralykyl substances (PFAS) specifications the school self-imposed on the project.

Bennett has alleged a May 2020 response landscape architect Chris Huntress gave to Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) staff about those specifications contradicts findings by Tetra Tech, the environmental consultant hired by the MVC for a technical review of the project. In a Dec. 22 email to Oak Bluffs health agent Meegan Lancaster and Martha’s Vineyard Superintendent of Schools Matt D’Andrea, among others, Bennett, who is a scientist and an attorney, alleged Tetra Tech found PFAS in samples taken from the type of synthetic field proposed.

“The response by Huntress,” Bennett emailed, “indicates that the project specifications ‘require’ that the artificial turf vendor provide third-party testing stating that they ‘do not use any PFAS chemicals currently listed as part of California’s Proposition 65 regulations, or identified as part of U.S. EPA’s Method 537’ to manufacture any part of the turf system …”

Bennett alleged testing by Tetra Tech, an environmental consultant hired by the MVC, found one or more chemicals listed in California’s Proposition 65 regulations or unearthed via the EPA’s Method 537.

“Tetra Tech found perfluoropentanoic acid (PFPeA) in the turf, at roughly 148 ppt. PFPeA is one of the 29 PFAS in EPA’s Method 537, so it appears that the proposed turf does not meet the project specifications … Moreover, if you look at Tetra Tech’s SPLP tests, they also found PFOA, as well as PFHpA, PFBA, PFPeA, and PFHxA. All of these are on EPA’s 537 list.”

In an emailed response to Bennett and local officials that was shared with The Times on Monday, Huntress directed inquiry to Tetra Tech.

“The test results that Ms. Bennett is referring to [were] prepared by Alpha Analytical labs under the supervision of Tetra Tech,” Huntress wrote. “Mr. Ronald E. Myrick Jr., PE LSP, CHMM, Karl Seibert, Project Geologist/Risk Assessor, and Ian S. Cannan, CHMM of Tetra Tech, were the team of scientists that provided a review and risk characterization of the finding for the MVC in their report dated Feb. 26, 2021. Tetra Tech are independent third-party scientists engaged directly by the MVC to review the selected turf products and the [sic] interpret the results. We respectfully request the Oak Bluffs Board of Health speak directly to Tetra Tech to better understand the results of the analysis and report.”

Huntress went on to write, “Our proposed project specification does require that the artificial turf vendor provide third-party testing stating that they do not use any PFAS chemicals currently listed as part of California’s Proposition 65 regulations or identified as part of U.S. EPA’s Method 537 to manufacture any part of the turf system. The proposed synthetic turf manufacturers, including the turf, infill, and resilient pad, DO NOT use PFPeA in the [manufacture] of their products. PFPeA is a five-carbon compound that is ever-present in soil, human bodies, wastewater, etc. Traces of PFPeA can be detected in countless consumer products, and can be a problem when test materials become contaminated by personal care products, for example, at these exceedingly small concentrations, we cannot know for certain whether PFPeA is ‘in’ a material (such as infill or synthetic turf fibers), or instead just seems to be there because it was transferred to that material during sampling, transport, and analysis. As mentioned above, we recommend that the O.B. Board of Health contact Tetra Tech and ask them their questions directly.” 

Huntress also wrote that PFAS, PFOS, and PFPeA has been found in Nantucket soil samples. 

“Specifically,” he wrote, “as identified in Alpha Analytical’s Oct. 19, 2021, testing results … they also found PFOA, as well as PFHpA, PFBA, PFPeA, and PFHxA in the existing topsoil samples at levels that were either at, or above, those found in the synthetic turf materials. This is not to say that topsoil should be considered harmful, rather that the amount of material we are discussing is exceedingly small, and the maximum concentrations reported are significantly lower than the (MA DEP) PFAS6 S-1/GW-3 standard of 300 ng/.”

In a telephone conversation Monday afternoon, Bennett said Huntress was spinning the data by ascribing the detected PFAS and related chemicals as contamination instead of manufacturing additives. Bennett described Huntress’ suggestion that contamination was at play as “disingenuous.” Bennett said all artificial turf PEER has sampled or reviewed has PFAS in it. 

“The specs say no PFAS,” Bennett said of the school’s specifications. “There is PFAS.”

Bennett went on to say, “Yes, we do have PFAS in soil. It’s disturbing. It shouldn’t be there.”

Its existence, she said, wasn’t a reason to add more. 

As to the minute levels detected, Bennett said PFAS will soon be measured in parts per quadrillion, so the argument doesn’t hold water for her. She added the minute levels may just be a representation of the test limits of the lab that did the work, not how much PFAS is actually there. 

Ron Myrick of Tetra Tech didn’t immediately respond to a voice message and an email seeking comment. 

12 COMMENTS

  1. English Premiere League soccer clubs went through phase of artificial pitch surfaces but changed back to natural grass to reduce increase of injuries that soccer players suffered on artificial turf(pitch).
    Lessons to be learned from the world’s best soccer fields?

    • It’s also been studied in the NFL and they found more injuries on artificial turf as well. I don’t really understand the push for this. It looks better? Is that all?

  2. And it’s notable that Huntress has a lot at stake and stands to benefit if the artificial turf moves forward. Money tends to bias people. Just sayin

    • It sounds like Kyla Bennett is a hired gun for the Field Fund whose sole agenda at this point is to sabotage this project. Please move forward with this approved decision. Its a good compromise with one tuff field that has been well vetted and four additional grass practice fields. Turf has been proven safe and capable of withstanding the type of use this field will get.

    • Please explain. The option is 1 field vs 3 fields. How does Huntress stand to make more for 1 field design and engineering vs 3 fields. Why does everyone think this is a 1 for 1 switch? I don’t think people understand how consulting works. They get paid regardless of the decisions the client ultimately chooses. But 3 vs 1 is more design work. Please stop spouting unfounded garbage. It is exhausting correcting the endless misdirection. There is well studies psychology behind this methodology. People. Please stop believing this innuendo.

    • Ideally, we listen to both. The scientist in question, an ecologist, doubtless knows a lot about ecology, but that’s not what she’s testifying to here. She hasn’t told the truth about what really threatens aquifers throughout the world with regard to PFAS … and that’s many decades of use of PFAS-based fire fighting foams. The architect in question specializes in sports fields, both natural and synthetic, and has relevant technical knowledge as to the materials at issue. Everyone has a contribution to make. Each should be listened to for what they can offer decision-makers. It’s up to them, the decision-makers, to try to differentiate the signals from the noise. Best of luck to them!

  3. We could have had well maintained grass fields years ago if the school had stuck with its original decision to use the Field Fund, which has actual donors with names and faces. The plastic field supposed ‘donors’ never seem to show up, while the towns get hit up yet again for “design” or “consulting” or whatever several thousand bucks they need next.

  4. Thank you Geraldine. The short and long term costs to the towns of maintaining and, eventually, disposing and replacing a turf field has not been quantified — despite many requests, for years, to school officials from town finance committee members across the island. The towns have no information about what will be expected of taxpayers for the “donated” (no names nor faces) turf field. We do know, however, that the current FY23 budget request from the high school includes the hiring of a $74,000 (salary and benefits) groundskeeper. The Marthas’s Vineyard Commission required such a hire as a condition of their approval of the artificial turf. So the costs to the towns have already begun and there is no field yet to maintain!!

    Moreover, the towns have, indeed, already pay $350,000 for the design work for the future turf field and accoutrements. But that did not turn out to be enough and $66,000 more will come out of the FY22 contingency fund for “unanticipated” costs. No taxpayer approval necessary for that!

    It seems as if all costs to the towns can be termed “unanticipated” since no one seems to know what they will be. Perhaps the school board and administration truly do not know what burden island taxpayers will have to shoulder. That is concerning.

  5. The members of the Field Fund are local residents, responsible to their community, with their own children in the school system.

    Their organization has a strong “CV” in terms of what they have already accomplished for Vineyard sports fields, and the dedication they have shown. Their consultants have guided the Field Fund to visible positive results.

    If this were a straight hiring situation, we would do well to “hire” the Field Fund for the job of installing and maintaining high-quality natural turf fields for our student athletes and other stakeholders.

  6. Folks keep writing about how the field fund made an offer and the high school did not take them up on it.
    They are correct but like many sound bites this is misleading into what actually transpired.

    As Paul Harvey would say here is the rest of the story.
    The MVRHS school committee has a working relationships with the following non profits who use the high school property: MVCS, MV YMVCA, The Sharks, the skateboard park, IWYC, MV ice arena now merged successfully with YMCA.
    The high school began open negotiations with the field fund to find a solution to improving the conditions of the athletic fields and build a new track.
    The Field Fund presented the high school with a proposal/ agreement, as a matter of good business the document was viewed by the high school attorney. His findings were the high school could not legally enter into the agreement as it was structured.
    The High school continued to negotiate in good faith with the Field Fund spending approx 28,000 in tax payers dollars on legal fees.
    In Aug/sept 2017 the field fund submitted a letter to the high school terminating negotiations, here is the quote from that email/letter as follows:
    “All previous offers, proposals, or understandings of The Field Fund,Inc. are hereby revoked and withdrawn”.

    The Fact is The Field Fund walked away leaving the high school with a depleted check book and not one promise followed through with.
    Wishing you all a very happy day.

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