The Oak Bluffs board of health tried to postpone discussion about artificial turf, per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), and proposed regulations that would prohibit PFAS-containing artificial turf on Tuesday, but wound up exploring the topic with guests in its Zoom for roughly 50 minutes. The board of health first introduced draft regulations that would ban a synthetic field containing PFAS in December.
A field project that contains a synthetic turf field was approved by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, but is now before the planning board seeking a special permit.
Landscape architect Chris Huntress told the board he never presented specifications for the proposed Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School track and field project as PFAS-free. Huntress said the specifications he had put forward indicated there would be no PFAS per particular State of California and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) criteria.
“Mr. [James] Butterick had raised the question earlier about our specifications and whether or not we had said PFAS-free,” Huntress said. “Just to be clear — I just reread them, I’ve got them here in front of me — our specifications never said that the field was PFAS-free.”
Huntress said the specifications he provided indicate there isn’t any PFAS as contemplated under California’s Proposition 65 or the EPA’s 537 method. Huntress said test results reflect that position.
Board of health member Tom Zinno asked if PFAS were used to assist the manufacturing process of artificial turf.
“So, PFAS materials are used, and this is well-documented, in the lubrication of the extruding process,” Huntress said. However, he stressed, that PFAS was inert. Huntress said PVC pipe was an example of an inert material used in an outdoor environment.
Concerning PFAS chemicals, “some of them are hazardous and dangerous, and some of them are inert,” Huntress said. “The one that’s used in the manufacturing process is inert.”
When asked by Zinno if it was water-soluble, Huntress initially declined to answer the question, but then offered a limited response. “I do not believe it is water-soluble, but I would have to refer to the testimony of Dr. Green and ask you to refer to Tetra Tech …”
In the past, toxicologist Laura Green shared scientific opinions with the board, but has yet to come back before them since coming under criticism for allegedly making claims that run counter to those of the EPA, an agency she has worked for in areas unrelated to PFAS.
Tetra Tech is the environmental consultancy firm hired by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission to evaluate aspects of the track and field project. It also has consulted for Martha’s Vineyard Airport on PFAS issues.
The board had hoped to bring Tetra Tech consultant Ron Myrick to the meeting, but instead health agent Meegan Lancaster and Butterick met with him prior to the meeting. “He was a very nice, very straightforward fellow,” Butterick said. However, Butterick said, Myrick had declined to attend any meeting, and referred the board to the report he generated for the MVC.
Kristen Mello, a Westfield politician who investigates PFAS, said Tetra Tech analysis and testing revealed that “upon oxidation,” chemicals that come off field materials had Proposition 65–recognized PFAS. Mello said ultraviolet light triggers shedding of PFAS material, and then rain can take it into an aquifer.
Huntress said the more harmful chemicals were only released when the materials were incinerated in the testing.
Zinno asked Huntress if it was true that cloth filters designed to manage runoff at the proposed track and field don’t capture PFAS.
“No, PFAS are measured in parts per trillion, so they’re very, very small, and even the best of industrial filter fabrics put in, I don’t think, would be able to catch that,” Huntress said. “Now you’d have to talk to a scientist, but that’s my understanding.”
Unlike a natural field grass which drains horizontally, drainage for an artificial turf field is “vertical,” Huntress said. “So when it drains vertically, it drains through two layers of a filter fabric which has a very, very small permeability rate, but it allows water to drain [to] about 20 inches per hour. So we’re going to catch any micro-plastics or other things through the field. And around the edge of the track on the inside lane, there’s a trench drain.”
Those drains have fabric filter sacks, he said.
Zinno asked if there was any way to catch and treat PFAS in runoff before it goes into the ground.
“Not that I’m aware of,” Huntress said. “Again, I’m a landscape architect, not a scientist, so I’m not sure if there are PFAS removal processes that could be introduced into a subsurface system. I’ve heard that there can be some through septic systems and others. I don’t know if they can be modified to potentially go under the turf field.”
Finance committee member Maura McGroarty told the board she thought the investigation into the potential problems with the track and field project was politically driven “without the science behind it.”
She added, “Everybody’s probably right that there is an issue there, but it is not primarily driven by installation of this type of project.”
As toxicologist Green previously told the board, McGroarty said the primary culprit was septic systems.
Health board chair William White said politics wasn’t a factor as far as he was concerned. “Science is always evolving, obviously,” White said. “Science isn’t always correct, and I admit that. But as far as I’m concerned, I want to do due diligence. I don’t really care about the politics of the whole thing.”
White went on to say he’d rather be “safe than sorry” on the issue. “I don’t want to go five years down the road and tell you, ‘Should’ve, could’ve, would’ve.’ I’m not going to operate that way.”
Finance committee member Walter Vail, a former select board member, suggested the board provide commentary to the planning board’s special permit evaluation for the track and field project, commentary that supports the project with contingencies.
“Say to them that you’ve got a broader issue than just the artificial turf, and that may take quite a while,” Vail said. “Meanwhile, the high school would like to get on with installing artificial turf.”
Vail suggested the board recommend the planning board “go forward with the special permit and allow the installation of the field, with the idea that if something comes up — and the high school has already said that they will test right along, and if it does not meet your restrictions — they will pull it back up again. I don’t think that’ll be the case, but I think that would be a way to move forward and not stall this forever and ever. “
Vail added, “They have the money, or would have the money, in their hands to do that.”
When asked Wednesday where he thought the funds would come from for a track and field demolition, Vail said “private donors” would “hopefully construct it,” and would “also tear it down if needed.”
When asked who those donors were, Vail said, “I have no names. It’s not of any great importance as to who’s going to do this … It’s not going to be a taxpayer issue.”
In an email Wednesday, the pro-grass group Field Fund criticized Vail’s meeting remarks.
“It was shocking to hear a member of the Oak Bluffs finance committee advocate for the installation of a known, 2.5-acre PFAS point source, letting it contaminate the sole source aquifer with ‘forever chemicals,’ then to try to remediate that foreseeable contamination, remove and dispose of the plastic field, and grow a grass field in its place,” the group wrote. “Is this the school’s plan? If so, it seems financially, environmentally, and legally reckless.”
The board took no action on the regulations or any input with the planning board’s special permit process, but it reiterated its desire to consult with other Vineyard boards of health on PFAS threats.
In other business, the board voted unanimously to send a legal letter in response to an open meeting law complaint made by Tisbury resident John Zarba. The letter denies the law was broken.