Letter: Board Of Health Must Weigh In On PFAS Hazard In Synthetic Turf

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The following letter was sent to Amherst Health Director Jennifer Brown and the Amherst Board of Health on November 10, 2022.

We are writing to you and to the Board of Health (BOH) to request that you do due diligence on the directive you received from the Town Council on October 17, to evaluate the safety of synthetic turf, prior to the council’s vote to approve funding such an installation at Amherst Regional High School.  Our understanding is that the board has postponed those investigations until BOH Chair Nancy Gilbert, who is currently out of the country, returns to Amherst. 

At the Town Council meeting of November 7, Town Manager Paul Bockelman indicated that if the council did not receive a recommendation from the BOH before the council’s next scheduled regular meeting on November 21, that he would take that as an indication that the BOH does not regard the matter as important. Bockelman said that the School Committee says that this is their decision to make (and they have apparently made it), but the Town Council will have to vote on whether to allot $900k from free cash to complete Amherst’s share of the project.

Evidence is mounting that PFAS in synthetic turf fields poses a substantial threat of contamination to soil and ground water and for potentially harmful exposure of the athletes who use the fields. It would appear that the danger of groundwater contamination is compounded at ARHS by the fact that Tan Brook runs under the athletic fields at the high school. Asserting that there is nothing to worry about, is not an acceptable course of action when public health is concerned and not a substitute for due diligence.   The matter must be studied and the risks fully examined before a decision is made.

We understand the frustration of the sports boosters who have worked so hard to bring this improvement to the athletic fields in Amherst.  Until very recently, we were among them in supporting such an installation. But we find the accumulated evidence on the dangers of PFAS and the role of synthetic turf in transmitting it into the environment to be alarming. 

We note that the town of Portsmouth, NH was assured by their consultant Weston & Sampson, (incidentally, the same consultants that are advising the Town of Amherst), that the synthetic turf field they installed was PFAS free.  It wasn’t.  Law suits will ensue.

As Toni Cunningham reported previously in the Indy, several towns in Massachusetts, including Boston, have now banned installation of synthetic turf.

We’d be happy to provide a bibliography on request.

Maura Keene. M.D.
Art Keene

Maura Keene is a retired obstetrician-gynecologist at Bay State Health Systems. Her four children are graduates of the Amherst schools. She has lived in Amherst since 1982. She is a frequent contributor to The Amherst Indy.

Art Keene is Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at UMass. He was a town meeting member for 20+ years.  He has lived in Amherst since 1982.   He is Managing Editor of The Amherst Indy

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