Concerns about per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) continue to dominate the debate at Oak Bluffs planning board meetings, with some saying the jury is still out on how harmful the chemicals could be and at what levels.
At Thursday’s planning board meeting, members of the public and advocates for environmental groups on the island expressed distress over the potential for PFAS to grow in groundwater. The planning board has already completed and approved a site plan review for the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School sports field project, but with an artificial turf playing field that is expected to be built on the only aquifer source of the vineyard, in a critical zoning area called a water resource. Protection Overlay District, a special permit process has been triggered.
At the last meeting of the board of directors, on March 31, a promoter of the project made a virulent statement this caused frustration and concern around the emotions aroused by the proposed project. Council Chairman Ewell Hopkins announced at the start of the meeting that the council would reconvene at its scheduled time on Thursday, with an agenda item related to how decorum and process can be maintained in the event of a busy deliberation. “We will do our best to create a safe and caring environment where all voices are respected and all voices are heard,” Hopkins said.
Richard Toole was one of the first members of the community to object to the synthetic turf aspect of the project. Throughout the meeting, it was reiterated that people were not against the project as a whole, just the look of the synthetic turf. “I understand the desire for a new domain. I certainly totally agree. I’m a big proponent of getting the kids outside, but we need to do this without the safety of our drinking water being in question,” Toole said.
Horsley Witten and Tetra Tech, independent environmental consultants hired by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission during their regional impact development review, noted “de minimis” levels of the six PFAS compounds currently regulated by the Department of Environmental Protection. the Massachusetts environment. This means that the levels of these detectable PFAS were too insignificant or minor to warrant consideration. PFAS are found in many everyday items like non-stick cookware, food wrappers, and waterproof clothing, among others.
But there are thousands of compounds in the PFAS family, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. websiteand the vast majority of them are not measurable by sample testing.
Jonah Maidoff told the meeting that some scientists think the current federal threshold of 70 parts per trillion (ppt) for PFAS is far too high, and some even suggest 1 ppt as a new acceptable level.
Maidoff pointed out that these types of polymers found in synthetic turf materials cannot be made without the use of an extrusion process that uses PFAS to “grease the wheels” of extrusion machines. “I’m very cautious about something we know so little about that is toxic at such low levels,” Maidoff said.
Scarlet Johnson said one of the MVC conditions at the high school field project requires regular chemical testing of sample wells, which could prove costly in years to come. The high school will also need to regularly disinfect the grounds, Johnson said, which could pose additional challenges for the aquifer. One concern from members of the public about using a grass field instead of a synthetic field is that it would require an excessive amount of nitrogen fertilizer which would violate groundwater protection standards.
Johnson said there are organic seeds and organic fertilizers that use phosphorus and potassium instead of nitrogen.
Speaking on his own behalf, Doug Reece, president of the Lagoon Pond Association, said he was familiar with the issue of nitrogen loading in groundwater and was all too familiar with septic systems due to of his experience in real estate. He said it is not fair to compare nitrogen loading to PFAS contamination, adding that nitrogen can be accurately measured and mitigated with the proper filtration methods. “There are new concepts in septic systems where they use wood chips to interact with urea and cause it to oxidize and turn into nitrogen gas,” Reece said. “I proposed that a wood chip filter system around and under a natural grass pitch would have the same benefits [as it would on a septic system].”
Robert Bates said that as a retired deputy chief of the Nantucket Fire Department, he had been exposed to PFAS for decades via spray foams and bunker gear that were mandatory for firefighters. “I did a blood test and tested high for four of the six PFAS chemicals that they will be testing right now,” Bates said. He said many of the same materials in the project specifications are also found in the turnout gear and foams he and his department have used, adding that the Nantucket School System recently halted its athletic field project in synthetic turf for at least a year, as new data will be revealed on PFAS once the DEP reevaluates their safety criteria next year.
Bates said the turf manufacturer (and the language of the MVRHS master plan) was dishonest in saying that a recycling facility is available in the United States and overseas. The Times verified in its report that there are currently no operating recycling facilities in the country, and sending synthetic turf overseas for recycling would be extremely expensive, according to correspondence referenced in a letter to the MVC. from Amanda Farber of Safe Healthy Playing Fields Inc. The letter quotes Eric Van Roekel, CEO of GBN Artificial Grass Recycling, suggesting that it would be impossible for an artificial grass field to be shipped to the Netherlands, where the one of the few existing recycling facilities. “We have to do the numbers, but I still think a field from the United States should be recycled in the United States and not shipped overseas,” the correspondence reads.
Kristen Mello lives in Westfield and said the city has been dealing with PFAS contamination since it was detected at Barnes Air National Guard Base, where an Aqueous Film Forming Solution (AFFF) fire-fighting foam similar to Martha’s Vineyard airport foam was used. Mello said she and her family have high levels of PFAS in their blood, but it will take years of more research to determine just how harmful the contaminants are and at what levels.
She noted that test data for synthetic turf material fully oxidized over years of sun exposure and heavy use is still not available, and understanding of how certain PFAS precursors that are undetectable in their existing form can transform into some of the regulated PFASs that are considered harmful.
“In your own public record, Horsley Witten wrote that with the level of detection of total organic fluorine, it is likely that PFAS-related compounds beyond the list of 24 are present in the materials,” Mello said. . She said these fluoride tests suggest that there may currently be an unquantifiable potential for contamination. “In my opinion, that’s about all you need to know.”
Dr. Laura Green, a consultant who has downplayed the health effects of PFAS during official VMC deliberations, has spoken repeatedly about the high amounts of PFAS that can be detected in septic systems, stressing that the focus should be placed on the effluent leaching chemicals into the groundwater. But Mello said the two issues should not be confused and any opportunity to mitigate the number of persistent man-made carcinogens on our planet should be seized.
“You have the right to prevent contamination, and you are required by law to do so,” Mello said.
Kyla Bennett, director of Public Employees for Environmental Accountability, said PFAS are a very large class of compounds that are toxic in trace amounts. She said DEP will re-evaluate its maximum contaminant levels for PFAS next year, and she anticipates the state will regulate more compounds, and at a lower limit, “because the science on the toxicity of these chemicals is changing rapidly, and more regulation is needed to protect our health.
In the project specifications from landscaping company Huntress Associates, it is stated that “The synthetic turf supplier shall provide a statement certifying that their products do not use any PFAS chemicals currently listed under the regulations of the California Proposition 65 or identified under US EPA Method 537. in the backing or turf covering.
Bennett said third-party consultants found three of these PFASs in the turf mat, crash pad and infill. “The project does not meet the project specifications – that should be enough for you to say no.” Bennett said.