Oak Bluffs gathering support for turf moratorium

The potential moratorium would halt any turf fields in the town.

A possible moratorium on turf fields is underway in Oak Bluffs. —Courtesy Huntress Associates Inc

The Oak Bluffs board of health is looking for support for implementing a potential three-year moratorium on turf athletic fields in Oak Bluffs. 

The board has requested letters of support from other Vineyard health boards.

The proposed moratorium stems from concerns over per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) — a group of chemicals that can cause harm to human health and the environment. The moratorium also relates to litigation between the Oak Bluffs planning board and the Martha’s Vineyard Regional School District, and the school’s proposed turf field.

The board of health discussed the possibility of implementing a turf field moratorium in Oak Bluffs over the summer. According to Oak Bluffs health agent Garrett Albiston, the board had considered the moratorium as an option since the project process began, but was advised to wait and see how the planning board’s litigation played out. 

Albiston said the proposed moratorium wouldn’t halt just the athletics field project. “It also requires the board of health to conduct a study or pay someone to conduct a study on PFAS in the ground and overall groundwater health,” Albiston said, adding that the study would also look at what pollutants were in the groundwater, and whether a turf field would add further pollutants. 

When asked about the turf being over the aquifer, Albiston said he personally thought something that could add to the PFAS count should not be installed. 

“We shouldn’t be putting it down if there’s a reasonable alternative,” Albiston said, pointing to a grass field as an option. “These are pretty dangerous chemicals, the only chemicals that I know of that are measured in parts per trillion.”

Albison also pointed out that there is legislation moving through the state house aimed at banning PFAS by 2030, including a prohibition on government entities, among them schools, putting down turf fields. 

Albiston said the Oak Bluffs board of health is not required to hold a public hearing to set the moratorium in place, so it could be implemented after a vote on Nov. 28. 

So far, the Tisbury board of health has unanimously approved sending a letter of support for Oak Bluffs’ cause. 

There was little discussion from Tisbury board members during the Tuesday meeting, although board member Jeff Pratt had concerns about getting involved with the lawsuit. Tisbury health agent Maura Valley will draft a letter of support before sending it to Oak Bluffs. 

The Edgartown board of health expressed potential support of a moratorium, although no decision was made during its Tuesday afternoon meeting. And the Chilmark Board of Health is scheduled to consider the issue at its Nov. 15 meeting.

According to Edgartown health agent Connor Downing, the Oak Bluffs health board contacted them with the request for a letter of support. 

“The planning board’s turf decision to prevent the field got overturned, so now it’s kind of landed in the board of health’s hands to decide whether to allow it or not,” Downing said at Tuesday’s meeting. Downing said the moratorium would pause the installation of turf fields for three years in Oak Bluffs. 

Edgartown health board chair Gretchen Regan said if the moratorium was implemented, it seems, Oak Bluffs would be able to revisit the issue in three years, extend it, or end it early. 

Additionally, Regan said that the impact of PFAS from the field on the Island’s main aquifer and drinking water was why Oak Bluffs was pursuing the moratorium. 

“The reason they asked us, and are asking other towns to weigh in as well, is because we all drink from the same aquifer,” she said. “Everybody gets drinking water from there, even though it sits under Oak Bluffs, mostly.” 

Edgartown health board member Candace Nichols was absent from the meeting on Tuesday, and the board felt this was an issue that needed to be discussed with its entire membership before voting to send a letter of support. However, the present members leaned in favor of writing the letter. 

“The state … wants to ban PFAS being put into products by the year 2030,” Edgartown health board member Christopher Edwards said, saying that adding more PFAS should be avoided. 

Regan agreed, saying going away from PFAS seems to be the “way of the future.” Several other states, like California, are also trying to ban PFAS. 

“I think the advantage of a moratorium — rather than an outright ban — is giving these other bodies time,” Regan said, pointing out that further research could be done, or alternative products explored. “From a public health perspective, I absolutely support not polluting our drinking water on the Island.” 

The Oak Bluffs board of health canceled its own Tuesday morning meeting to discuss a draft moratorium on “the installation of certain artificial sports playing surfaces” due to a lack of quorum. The Oak Bluffs officials are expected to discuss the matter during their Nov. 28 meeting. The Edgartown health board, if they choose to do so, will need to send a letter before this meeting.


  1. This is so wrong….the field’s PFAS concentrations are so low that they were determined to be “de-minimus” barely recordable and below the State’s standards. In order to get those readings they had to put the materials through such harsh environments that it would have to be raining Drano in order to release any PFAS. This is again, scare tactics, that are being used against one product. How about the 100 housing units being built across the street, on the aquifer, where it has been proven by testing that households produce more PFAS than this field ever will in its lifetime? How can you target one project when there are so many other sources of KNOWN PFAS producers. I hope the boards of health get independent EXPERT opinions before they jump to any moratorium. Shouldn’t our boards of health follow the science that was produced by EXPERTS and not opinions of ANTI- TURF people who use scare tactics with no proven science? Turf fields have been in existence for decades and not one study has been produced to show that turf fields add PFAS to water sources, while other studies show that households produce more PFAS than any other source. Please don’t do this, this makes no sense. I would demand the Board of Health hire experts to give them their opinion on this turf field project and then follow their findings, unlike what the planning board did. Do your due diligence, like the school had to do, before making such a rash decision. You are not experts on this subject, hire someone who is.

    • what a silly argument from a pro-turf lobbyist. small island with sole source aquifer (water supply). lobbying to lay down an artificial playing field with the potential to leach highly toxic chemicals into the water supply we use for drinking? why? so kids can “keep up with the off-island jones’s” and their plastic fields. common sense says to at least have a moratorium as the science evolves before making a permanent decision to poison the drinking water. the only ones making no sense are those pushing for potentially highly toxic artificial turf at the expense of safe public drinking water. bully others all you want. common sense will prevail. and spare us the “expert” argument. the science will evolve. why take a chance on something as precious as clean fresh drinking water. all for a pretty colored playing field?? sounds like your risk/reward values are distorted. the island is polluted enough from development. a pretty green artificial playing field should be an easy thing to turn down. especially when it is a likely risk to health. btw, if you’re so fixed on risking everyone’s health, why don’t you start the ball rolling by contributing, say $20k of your own money for your own hired gun expert. then you can truly call yourself a ‘stakeholder’.

      • I would love to donate to the fight but will do that anonymously in cash, how will that go over? See Bert and Greg’s comments below. Why focus on something that has been studied and has shown it isn’t a threat vs fighting things that we know are currently a problem? Why, because if you do that, not one more house can be built on this island, there goes your affordable housing plan. But you don’t have a problem with taxing us to pay for this affordable housing that will poison our water supply, as PROVEM in the science currently available. Your argument isn’t based on facts. If you want to wait for the science to pan out, stop all housing and put a moratorium on any more development until we get more science, something that will actually change the water quality. Stop the Vineyard Wind project going on in our harbor, not one once of testing done on any of those products being used.
        The water table is more at risk by leaving the current grass and soil in the site of the proposed field, levels we KNOW, FOR A FACT, are higher than the de-minimus levels in the turf. You see, the Board of Health is just looking for a feel good moment and aren’t actually trying to save our water supply. They want votes of the “faux environmentalists” who drive their SUVs to pick up their children and idol in the parking lots of the schools, when buses are provided.

        • you raise some good points. thanks for your response. I wish we could protect our drinking water by both stopping further development AND this plastic field. sadly, neither will likely happen. off island, it’s easier to have home delivery of Poland Spring or other “safe” water to your house, when safe drinking water is not available. not as easy (or inexpensive) on the island. it would be nice to avoid this sad situation by doing everything necessary to keep our drinking water clean. we probably disagree on plastic fields. to me it’s a “nice to have” with some risk to our water. to me, not worth it. you may see things differently. maybe we can both agree on one thing though: we should do everything we can to protect our precious clean drinking water. we will have to make tough choices. maybe we can start by putting limits on easy things first, as we hold all projects to strict limitations.

  2. The real shame is it’s the kids who are the casualties of all this stratospheric wrangling. To think this all started when a small group of do-gooders (with deep pockets) didn’t want turf for some reason (I forget why). This in turn devolved into a raucous name-calling, full fledged Island war. Now, literally years and thousands of dollars later, here we are. Still no new fields for students. Board if Health?Moratorium? Oh please. C’mon, can’t we turn the page and put our time and money toward solving some real problems?

    • Patrick and Bill– that small group of do-gooders with deep
      pockets seem to be in the majority of islanders.
      I have read the reports and think there is very little
      if any danger that PFAS will impact our water quality.
      But a turf field, in my opinion, is just pretty dumb
      for a number of reasons that have been hashed out
      here many times.
      I agree– stop the wrangling, the lawsuits, the name calling
      and buy some freaking grass seed. How hard is that ?
      Or just put it to an island wide vote, and let the people

  3. So right for so many reasons. Thank you OB Health Dept for protecting the health of our people and environment.

    • Why don’t they ban tuna? We all know it has mercury and that is very toxic. Why don’t they ban Teflon pans. We know those shed pfas into the aquifer through septic tanks. Can they explain the rise in pfas in the town water the past couple of years. Someone is poisoning the heck out of the ground near those well heads. Why not ban PCV pipes from installation in homes? How about banning raincoats with protective layers. Those shed pfas every time it rains. Come on board of health. If you are going to protect your water supply, really get on it and go after the plastic coating on all the foods in the reliable and all the restaurant take out boxes. Are you really doing your job to protect us from pfas? If you were really doing your job protecting the aquifer you should tell that affordable housing thing it is a non starter over the aquifer. That won’t happen. Once you ban this you can return to blissfully rubber stamping known polluters.

      What was the public meeting date where you had it on your agenda to discuss reaching out to the other boards of health? I can’t seem to find the agenda item.

      • Greg– There are many things that have been
        banned. They banned lead paint, leaded gas,
        Cfcs, asbestos, ddt and a long list of various
        chemicals ;
        I can guarantee that just about every one
        was opposed by the republican party.
        Had we banned mercury 60
        years ago, when we knew it was dangerous
        we might have mercury free tuna today.
        I’m certainly in favor of adding to that list.
        I see no reason to wait for the PFAS and
        microplastics to cause serious wide spread
        health problems and work their way into
        everything before taking action.
        Think Love Canal and the problems
        with all sorts of stuff in the water on
        the cape.
        We know better.

  4. The Board of Health does not have the specific authority to regulate turf installations, and of course they know this. The sections of the Mass general Laws they are relying on relate to nuisances, causes of sickness, and general health regulations. It’s a stretch, and they know that, too. Their previously posted draft refers to PFAS, and bans turf installations that contain PFAS without any qualifiers for de minimis quantities that are barely measurable. This too will be overturned on appeal.

    Of course, the high school will have to respond, and incur additional legal fees in doing so. The prudent thing to do would be to have their counsel look at this now, while it’s in the planning stage, and file a prophylactic objection. At the very least, the Board of Health should have to demonstrate an actual risk to the public health posed by the specific materials to be used in the project. Of course, they won’t be able to do this based upon all of the evidence provided to date.

    Would it be too much to ask to have OB town counsel review this in advance and advise the Board of Health whether or not this exceeds their authority, and whether they can seek to apply it towards a project that has already been approved? And maybe this time we should actually heed their advice.

    I can’t understand why any other island board of health would support this – Oak Bluffs has already caused a great deal of harm to the regional high school. Other island towns should be seeking to recover the high school’s previous expenses cause by overreach of OB officials – not jumping on board supporting OB in the next phase of their wasteful campaign to subvert this project regardless of cost.

  5. I don’t want my child playing a game on a plastic field. Why would any parent subject their child to that? Do these pro plastic folks also cover their back yards with plastic? Do they also have plastic Christmas trees…..actually, no need to answer that one, I’m sure they do.

    • You get to choose what kind of field your child plays on. Falmouth Academy has grass fields..
      You do not get to choose what kind of field other children play on.

      Why would any parent subject their child to dirt, stones, GMO plants, chemical fertilizers, chemical herbicides, chemical pesticides and grass stains.

      Do they also have plastic Christmas trees…..actually they do, Conservatives more so than Liberals.
      “A 2018 poll from NPR, Marist, and PBS NewsHour found that Republicans are more likely to buy an artificial tree, with 63% of conservatives reporting that they planned to buy a fake tree versus 44% of Democrats.”

      Parents who really care about their children do not bring a fire hazard into their homes, have you ever seen a Christmas tree explode? Fireman have seen the aftermath.

  6. If this was a movie people would not believe it to be true. It will be 10 years before I have a child in the school will something be there by then? Edgartown please do not get dragged into this corrupt mess and be conned into the OB drama we are better than that.

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