Don’t be bullied

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To the Editor:

The following is a copy of the statement I made to the O.B. planning board on March 31 regarding the MVRHS athletic fields.
I’ve written and rewritten what I wanted to say tonight. To most of you my thoughts on this subject are known. I’ve spoken about health effects, plastic toxicity, water protection, and Island culture. So I’m not going to repeat that. What I am going to talk about tonight is why …

Why are we still discussing the possibility of putting forever chemicals on our land? Why are we willing to accept the risks which accompany that decision? Why are so many unwilling to say no to big industry?

In a letter from Michael Silvia, the superintendent of the O.B. water district, he suggests that PFAS contamination is a possibility. Wells will be monitored, and three of our wells are just a half-mile from the location of the proposed field. It’s also clear in correspondence that should contamination occur, Oak Bluffs is responsible financially for the mitigation. As an Oak Bluffs taxpayer, I find that possibility unconscionable. And to me that worst element is the willingness to take chances on the health of our students and community at large while the science continues to emerge in an alarming manner.

I have a unique perspective on this. I am damaged by a forever chemical. I am one of 11 million people in the U.S. alone who was exposed to DES. Diethylstilbestrol was prescribed to pregnant women from 1949 until 1971. And, here’s the thing … the pharmaceutical giants knew it caused reproductive abnormalities and cancer as early as 1949, but no one said no to them. It wasn’t until a courageous whistleblower doctor at Massachusetts General Hospital published a study in 1971 showing cause of rare, aggressive forms of testicular and vaginal cancers in people under the age of 30 that the use of DES was stopped by the FDA.

For 51 years, cancer has been a part of my life. Sometimes it stole bigger segments, other times it just hung out in the background threatening, like heavy thunderclouds on a summer day. Yesterday I went to MGH for biopsies and treatment. Again, I await pathology reports. I share this because I, at my core, don’t want anyone else to live with the barrage of thoughts and emotions accompanying this unwelcome journey. Most especially when it can be prevented! We as elders of this community can mitigate the risks. It’s within our power and, I submit, our responsibility.

I was asked earlier this week if I had a student at MVRHS. I do not; I do have many young people I cherish who will be there. I am fiercely protective of them. That combined with my lifelong fight to live inspires me to be here and speak. 

In the final analysis, we, the M.V. community, are the ones with skin in the game. It’s our well-being that’s at stake. Huntress Associates will build the project, take the money, and leave. They will not drink the water for years afterward. We will. A lone doctor at MGH was brave enough to speak the truth about the power of profits in 1971. In doing so he saved countless lives. Who among us is going to do that about forever chemicals in artificial turf that will leach into our waters? Many professional athletes have already started that ball rolling. Do the project, with natural grass. Give our young athletes good fields to play on without risking their future.

In conclusion, I’ve heard whispers for years that people are intimidated to speak out. Concerned about bullying to their children or retaliation against friends or loved ones, they remain quiet or just go along to get along. THAT, in and of itself, is telling. Why are they afraid? I am here hoping and asking you to condition this project to be done only with natural turf. Be true to our people and our water. Be the hero who says no!

Susan Desmarais

Oak Bluffs