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.