Health board bans artificial playing fields

The ban in Oak Bluffs stops short of restricting the high school from building a track.

The MVRHS athletic field. —Daniel Greenman

The Oak Bluffs health board has passed a ban on artificial turf playing fields throughout town.

The three-member board voted unanimously on Tuesday after what members said was more than two years of crafting the ban’s language, and discussing the issue with school officials.

It’s been an intense issue on the Vineyard, with some Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School committee members pushing for a synthetic turf field, while some Oak Bluffs town officials have resisted.

On Tuesday, board members said that they made the decision to ban synthetic turf fields out of concern for the town’s drinking water, and particularly with the federal government enacting tougher and tougher standards on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS or “forever chemicals.”

“This is all about water quality,” said board member Tom Zinno. “This is not a haphazard decision. If you come up with a product that doesn’t have PFAS in it, the ban can be lifted. If you have a better product, bring it on. We’re willing to look at it.”

Board members noted that recent regulations passed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency earlier this month that set a new standard for drinking water and PFAS substances at 4 parts per trillion, far lower than 20 parts per trillion that is the existing state standard, and about as minimal as can be detected. 

“The numbers are going down for a good reason, because there are issues with [PFAS],” Zinno said. 

While the board’s decision is intended to stop the construction of artificial turf, the new ban would not affect a new track and field course, according to the board. 

Oak Bluffs health agent Garrett Albiston said that if they had set a moratorium on any PFAS playing surface, the high school would not be allowed to build a track, because there are no tracks that are constructed without substances containing PFAS.

“There are no reasonable alternatives to a track,” Albiston said. “There is a reasonable alternative to artificial turf, and that’s natural grass.”

Only one member of the public spoke out about the decision. Maura McGroarty said that she felt the board was making the decision for political reasons.

But board members pushed back. “The board’s main doctrine is public health,” chair William White said. “Politics has nothing to do with my decision.”

The ban will be in effect until when or if the board decides to lift it.


  1. Thank you Garrett and Board of Health officials. You are charged with protecting our health and did exactly that. Each of you are appreciated.

    • I don’t recall them objecting to the operation of a junkyard (which recently caught fire) being situated in the WPOD – or the LIMOD proposed by the Planning Board which was also to be located, in part, in the WPOD. It’s all very curious, isn’t it?

      • Bert— Nice deflection. but just between me and you,
        I certainly object to that junk yard.
        Not just because it is a junk yard, but because of the way
        it is operated. But of course, there are people who think
        any regulation is bad. That fire was likely preventable.

        • Well, if you read Mr. Degotta’s comment, and my response to that comment, it seems rather linear to me.
          On the other hand, one of the usages of the word “deflection” in the Cambridge Dictionary is “something you do or say in order to avoid something such as criticism, blame, or a question being directed at you “. I’ve noticed a bit of that on these pages recently. I’ll leave you to wrestle with that one.

  2. Perhaps this means that the Oak Bluffs Planning Board will take another look at the proposed “light industrial” district which recently failed to pass at town meeting. We need to do this in Vineyard Haven, and protect the Sanborn well.

  3. As Ms. McGroarty said, this had nothing to do with PFAS, it was all politics. The board of health is targeting one material that was politically charged. The previous BoH agent started this with her PFAS gang, yeah we remember. The board says that an alternate material is available, grass. Just to make that statement indicates it’s politically charged. There is more PFAS in building materials that have alternatives but there is no ban on those. Vinyl siding can be replaced by cedar shakes, same as plastic trim and decking, but again, no ban. There was virtually no risk of PFAS leaking from the field as proven by testing. In fact the field would have lowered PFAS at that site and the BoH knows that. This was, and is, targeting a project to serve a political agenda with actually no interest in lowering PFAS. Shame on the board and shame on OB. We all know septic systems are a major contributor but let’s build more affordable housing and increase PFAS. Stop lying to us BoH PFAS was never the issue.

    • If politics is the process for weighing competing viewpoints and making a decision based on the belief of what is best for the community overall, then this is indeed a political decision.

      The BOH bears no shame in making this decision. It is a fundamentally political process they are charged with. Weighing pros and cons on a controversial matter is their job. They are charged with making a decision based on their evaluation of the pros and cons of the case. And by their mandate to protect the public health.

      Mr Cleary and I disagree on the desirability of installing plastic fields. He makes good arguments to support his point of view. I have followed them carefully. And yet, I happen to have a different view and do not want plastic fields. I still respect his opinion, as well as others who feel as he does. We just have different viewpoints, that’s all.

      I think the EPA just tightened their regulation of PFAS compounds. With time, tighter regulation of precursor products like vinyl siding, trim and other plastics may happen. Mr Cleary is correct that we should all benefit from less PFAS in our drinking water.

      As I consider the pros and cons of plastic fields, my primary concern is that we live on an island with only one source of water. Our resources are precious. I agree we should do everything we can to protect them.

      And yes, too much has gone on for too long in terms of development.

      Nitrogen mitigation in VH, failing septic and sewer systems, failed roads in terms of traffic, smog due to motor vehicles in the summer. We all know what this is. Our fragile and precious ecology needs us to help protect what we can.

      Tradeoffs will have to be made. Carefully, and with an eye to the future of the island. We will not always get what we want. We should try to consider all viewpoints, with an eye to keeping what’s left of the island that we are lucky to have. But we shouldn’t compromise on protecting our life sustaining air and water.

    • Patrick– I agree with you on some points– Like PFAS
      in septic systems. Lets ban PVC pipes that are known to
      leach PFAS into the groundwater. Would you be opposed
      to our island banning the sale of PVC pipes that are known
      to leach this stuff? Count me in on a total ban– too bad if it
      cost a little more.

  4. Wait, it’s all about health and PFAS not getting in the drinking water? How can you allow a track with PFAS but not the field? It’s all about politics! It’s an ignorant comment at best. BOH also has no issue with a composting station (biggest producer of PFAS) in our town. So, PFAS is ok just as long as it doesn’t come from turf? Nothing to see here folks.

  5. Also, did the BOH study the PFAS in the playground surface, how about the PFAS in the walking path around Sunset ? Both synthetic surfaces loads with chemical and PFAS, I missed any review on those projects. Nope, nothing to do with politics. If this board cared about PFAS you would be dealing with the current levels PFAS in the OB School and High School fields. We learned they were higher than a turf field, how come no call for action by our BOH who is concerned. How come this vote came after all the process the project went through? You let everyone get divided and spend money on litigation and then you vote years later. Thanks for “looking out “ for all of us.

    • Ryan– could you tell me where you get the information
      that the composting station is the biggest “producer” of
      PFAS in our town ?
      And let me be on the record that i would like to see a total ban
      on the actual production of these chemicals. I can assure
      you that a composting station is not “producing” any PFAS.
      They are a class of complex chemicals that are only produced
      in labs and highly advanced chemical plants. But perhaps our
      (sometime ) resident and self proclaimed leading authority
      on all issues concerning the “safety” of chemicals could chime
      in here and educate all of us “hypocrates”.
      I’m not mentioning anyone in particular, but as Jackie
      says “if you think I’m talking about you, I am”

  6. This ban is why so many people do not pay attention or trust those in power. Then again what is the point in being in a power position if you can not abuse it to your liking. This is what happens when you give people with little background in a subject to decide how they feel. The next BOH could reverse this when they are in power. The High School kids lose again as they always come last, first is always the teachers and administrators but they like to say it is for the children. Actions show otherwise.

  7. Unfortunately many of the above comments are reactionary. The scientific data on PFAS get more damning by the day. Forever chemicals are just that. They NEVER go away. We need to start preventing more exposure. Read the science folks.

    The Board of Health is protecting islanders health by preventing more exposure in our water. That is exactly what they are responsible for.

    • Susan, we can say the same about you reading the scientific data. The scientific data about actual testing done on THIS field’s components said that this field wouldn’t be a risk to the watershed. You heard the experts say that in testimony. We don’t disagree with you about PFAS but what we do disagree with you on is, the BoH ignored the scientific data presented to them in expert testimony, and the results of the said testing with instituting this unethical ban. We have not been reactionary, we have been saying this the whole time. The entire campaign run by people like yourself has been a fear campaign about PFAS with no actual evidence related to THIS project. Not one person testified, with evidence, that THIS project would affect the watershed. It was a fear campaign created about PFAS with no regard to the Thousands of dollars paid in testing, that was paid for with your tax dollars, that the planning board and now the BoH have ignored.

    • I beg to differ. The BOH doesn’t really care or they would be all over the test results from the soil samples from the high school and OB school. Not a peep about removing material they know are loaded with “forever” materials and at higher levels than what was tested and reported upon. Let’s be real. This is exactly what it is. A masked ban. This would have removed higher level toxic soil to get less toxic materials with data that said it would only be measurable at crazy temperature and PH that is not compatible with organic life. At least we can say we are done with this farce at this point.

  8. Whether or not we can agree on the safety of PFAS, the bottom line is that artificial turf causes a significant increase in lower body injuries to athletes.

    • Mike, I’ve found several articles that say that turf doesn’t increase injuries and even a few that say grass has higher injury rates so your statements are not proven facts. They are the opinions you have based on the few medical peer reviewed articles you’ve read. I’m sure your statements are based on peer reviewed articles, right? Because I know the dozens that I’ve read are. One article doesn’t make it fact, in fact, in medicine, seldom can an absolute be determined. Especially when there are so many variables involved with injuries. You have to take into consideration things like gender, age, height, weight, foot wear, conditions of the surface, sport, predisposition to injury, conditioning of the subject, and others. Therefore a definitive statement like “turf increases injury” has not been, and likely never will be, proven.

  9. Just do it.
    GMO grass seed, chemical fertilizer, chemical, herbicides, chemical pesticides, diesel turf care machines, annual plugging, ten year replacement, and lots and lots of water.
    The Right way is perfectly clear…

  10. I don’t give a damn about PFAS. I just don’t want my child to be playing on plastic. If the grass field is uneven, has some bare spots and doesn’t look so pretty ….oh well kid……that’s life. Life isn’t pretty and green and smooth and perfect from edge to edge and the sooner you realize that the better off you’ll be. Oh…and it’s not the playing field that will make you successful, it’s what you do on it. Do your best best, have fun, scrape some knees, get dirty and enjoy nature. No one’s getting a scholarship today!

  11. I wish a fraction of this time, attention, and money had been spent, long ago, on making improvements to the school itself.

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