To the Editor:
It’s a pity that the court has ruled against the Oak Bluffs planning board in their effort to prevent the building of a synthetic turf field. I do not have children who will be using the field, nor am I a resident of Oak Bluffs. What I have, however, is a Ph.D. in physical chemistry, and understand that the fluorinated hydrocarbons in the material used in the construction of the field are extremely toxic. Indeed, the allowable levels of the substances are in the parts-per-billion range, or one-millionth of a gram per liter. The compounds which affect the immune system, reduce vaccine efficacy, and are carcinogenic, among other things, can persist for many years.
The court relied on the Dover Amendment to make its decision. The amendment was enacted in 1950 in part to protect religious agencies from bylaws that prohibited them in residential neighborhoods. It’s doubtful that the passage of the legislation was intended to allow schools to construct an arguably dangerous athletic field. PFAs were undoubtedly unheard-of in 1950, and although it might be true for some, athletics hardly qualify as religion.
Aside from the health issues posed by the ingredients, it is probable that in the summer, the field will be significantly hotter than a grass field. Moreover, if predictions are correct, summer temperatures in the future will far exceed those in the recent past.
In addition to the danger to the students using the field, there is the additional threat of material leaching into the groundwater. This presents a hazard not only to the youngsters, but to anyone in the area utilizing the water source.
While the Dover Amendment gives schools the right to ignore local zoning bylaws, one should use common sense in applying it. Would the court have allowed the construction of the field if it were in the path of a railroad track? Or would the building of a school on a floodplain be acceptable? These examples, although highly unlikely, are scarcely more dangerous than using hazardous material to construct the field.
Finally, at some point, the field will need replacement. This will involve the disposal of significant amounts of harmful material. What are the plans for doing so?
One would hope that the Martha’s Vineyard Commission will consider all of this when making a decision to approve the project. Furthermore, while the Oak Bluffs planning board is to be commended for their efforts to prevent the project, they should consider appealing the court’s decision. And as the board chair, Mr. Hopkins, has indicated, the local state representatives, Mr. Fernandes and Mr. Cyr, should address the issue.