More talk, no action on PFAS

O.B. board of health broaches subject of field moratorium.

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O.B. board of health member Tom Zinno talks about the board's responsibility to protect the Island's drinking water during Tuesday's Zoom meeting.

The Oak Bluffs board of health met on Tuesday for a single agenda item — “discussion of draft regulation to restrict the installation of artificial turf containing PFAS in the town of Oak Bluffs.”

The board of health initially discussed draft regulations regarding PFAS in December, and has had several meetings since hearing from experts. Tuesday’s meeting had a resounding theme — PFAS information is emerging at a fast rate, and the board of health isn’t quite sure what to do to protect the Island’s sole-source aquifer as it waits for state and federal regulators to impose standards.

The meeting came a day ahead of what are expected to be deliberations and a possible vote by the Oak Bluffs planning board on a special permit sought by Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School to have a field in the town’s water protection zone.

Health board chair William White briefly broached the subject of a moratorium on the synthetic turf field, and got support for that from audience members Susan Desmarais and Rebekah Thomson, synthetic turf opponents. 

“I want to add my support for a moratorium. I’m grateful that’s something your board is still considering,” Thomson, a member of the Field Fund, said. “The information is coming out at a rapid, rapid clip.”

Field proponents Kris O’Brien, a school committee member, and Joe Sullivan made the case that there is no scientific evidence that turf fields will contribute to PFAS reaching the groundwater at elevated levels. She said there’s a public education gap on PFAS.

“This field is over the aquifer; so are we all,” O’Brien said, calling for a public campaign to educate the public about PFAS and the products it’s in. “Everything we do goes into the aquifer, and I just feel like maybe — this is the first grade teacher in me — creating an educational campaign would be an effective way of addressing this problem.”

Dr. James Butterick, a member of the board of health, said while a lot of questions remain about PFAS and potential harm to public health, he doesn’t believe the board should be singularly focused on the field project. “For us to be talking solely about the turf field and the risk to that is inappropriate,” he said. “I don’t think any of us have an appetite or feeling to pursue that regulation. On the other hand, the point has been raised that septic systems are really huge, and if there is something we could be doing, we ought to be testing them, and find out how big a problem we have. It’s probably very large.”

Butterick also pointed out that a state interagency panel has recently come out with an 88-page report on PFAS, and appears poised to impose regulations on use of PFAS in products.

Board member Tom Zinno pointed out that the board has the responsibility to protect the Island’s ponds and drinking water. He called it an important resource to protect. “I think that’s our job,” he said.

Audience member Richard Toole spoke just ahead of the meeting being adjourned. “I approve of the project without the plastic fields. We should forget this plastic stuff,” he said. “We do know there’s plastic, plastic, plastic everywhere you go. Please, please, don’t allow this over the aquifer and watersheds.”

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