Island Board Of Health Member Calls For Moratorium On Turf Fields

The simmering debate over the proposed installation of two turf fields at Nantucket High School spilled over to the Board of Health’s most recent meeting, when board member Meri Lepore called for a moratorium on synthetic turf fields on the island. 

It marked another escalation in the public dispute regarding the safety of turf fields due to PFAS, the so-called forever chemicals that are used in the manufacturing process but have been linked to health conditions and certain cancers

“I think at this point we should have a moratorium on turf because it just doesn’t make sense,” Lepore said. “A moratorium would last a few years until we have more information…The town is suing 3M but we’re saying let’s buy turf from 3M to put on our fields for our students to play on? We have a sole source aquifer.” 

Lepore was echoing the concerns that some other community members, including current and former Nantucket firefighters as well as the members of the Nantucket PFAS Action Group, have raised regarding the potential for turf fields to leach PFAS into groundwater. They argue that poses a potential threat to the island’s water supply. 

A similar debate over PFAS in turf fields is playing out on Martha’s Vineyard, where the Board of Health in Oak Bluffs is considering banning synthetic turf fields that contain PFAS

“It seems like the most ridiculous thing in the world to me and to think about the fact that we would be poisoning our whole island for future generations by having more PFAS put into our sole source aquifer, I just feel really strongly,” Lepore said. “The Vineyard is talking about banning turf right now. It’s a health hazard for all of us.”

The Nantucket Public Schools district recently severed ties with its former consultant, the toxicologist Laura Green who was hired to answer questions and share information on the safety and health impacts of turf fields, after she made statements downplaying the risks of PFAS. The school district has since engaged the firm Weston & Sampson to replace Green in that role, and its consultants just delivered a six-page memo in which they conclude PFAS levels found in turf fields are on par with background levels of PFAS found in the existing soil of the current grass fields at the school. 

“Leaching testing of the synthetic turf system components indicate PFAS do not leach at concentrations near or above MADEP (Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection) drinking water regulation levels,” according to Marie Rudiman, Senior Risk Assessor/Toxicologist, and Steven LaRosa, Team Leader, with Weston & Sampson. 

Still Meri Lepore and her father, School Committee chair and longtime island physician Dr. Tim Lepore, have emphasized that exposure to the elements and heat could allow PFAS to leach into island groundwater in greater amounts. 

Nantucket Superintendent Beth Hallett and other school officials have emphasized that island student-athletes already play on a turf field at the Nobadeer Farm Road playing fields, and typically do so when they travel off-island for outdoor sporting events. Most of Hallett’s recent communications on the topic have concluded with the line: “Please know that we would NEVER create a situation where the health and safety of our student athletes, coaching staff, and general community could be compromised.”

Nantucket Health Department Director Roberto Santamaria has generally stayed out of the debate over PFAS and the school athletic fields to date, but last week suggested that the Board of Health hold a joint meeting with the School Committee for a presentation of the schools’ campus-wide master plan and further discussion regarding the fields.

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