Letter: Installing 2.5 Acres of Impermeable Plastic at High School Could Destroy Remaining Grass Fields


This sign, announcing the closure of athletic fields at Amherst Regional High School, was a common sight in the sping of 2019. Photo: Art Keene

by Maura and Art Keene

The following letter was sent to Interim School Superintendent Doug Slaughter and the Amherst Regional School Committee on February 1, 2024.

We are writing to voice our concern that two critical aspects of site assessment were left out of the district’s recently signed contract with SLR international for site evaluation work for the track and field renovation at Amherst Regional High School.  These two omissions are likely to be costly to the district and their exclusion must be remediated. We have copied in the Regional School Committee and ask that they and you ensure that the missing analyses be completed as part of the design work.

Storm water drainage across all of the athletic fields: Kristin Mello, a Westfield Selectman, analytical chemist, and national authority on artificial turf, testified before the Amherst Town Council at their meeting of December 5, 2022, that Amherst’s plan to install 2.5 acres of impermeable surface (which is what artificial turf is according to the EPA) at Amherst Regional High School, would have a destructive impact on the surrounding athletic fields by further exacerbating the school’s existing stormwater runoff problem.  It is astonishing to us that there has been no discussion of her warning. The prospect of impairing multiple fields to gain one “all weather surface” is not justifiable and suggests the possibility of making access to and scheduling of athletic events much worse than things currently are. This distinct possibility demands a detailed, technical exploration of the impacts on storm water drainage of installing an impermeable surface and an explicit assessment of those impacts on surrounding grass fields.  Mello also noted that Amherst’s storm water drainage problem IS resolvable but requires addressing the drainage for the entire area and not just for a single field.

Testing to document that soils under the athletic fields are currently PFAS free and testing of all materials being considered for installation for PFAS and other chemicals of concern before decisions are made: .  Since an artificial turf field is one possible outcome from this assessment, the district has an obligation to ensure that they are not taking on unmanageable liabilities should they choose the turf option. Dr. Kyla Bennett, an attorney, former EPA official and national authority on artificial turf has pointed out that communities that have installed turf fields that were promised to be PFAS free, only to discover later that they were not, found themselves entangled in long and costly litigation after those fields contributed to dangerous groundwater pollution (see also here).  Bennett pointed out that communities have little recourse against false claims about the safety of turf or against post-installation contamination unless they can prove conclusively that PFAS were not present in their soils or groundwater prior to the installation.  It seems foolish to entertain the possibility of installing a turf field without undertaking such testing.  But such testing is not included in the scope of work of the SLR contract.

According to Graham Peasley, Professor of Physics and Biochemistry at Notre Dame University, and a national authority on PFAS contamination, there is no such thing as PFAS-free turf in spite of claims to the contrary by manufacturers. Peasley has testified that PFAS always leaches out of turf fields and finds its way into the soil.  While concentrations may be initially small,  the compounds are bioaccumulating (hence the appellation forever chemicals), and the danger they pose increases with time.  Because the proposed installation is over the Tan Brook, a detailed assessment of the impacts of this expected leaching into the Tan Brook and the neighborhoods through which it passes is also an essential, but for the moment, a missing part of the assessment. 

Mello added in her testimony before the Amherst Town Council that artificial turf always adds PFAS to three distinct communities: the one where it is manufactured, the one where it is installed, and the one where it is discarded. She pointed out that, since the field material Amherst Boosters have proposed in their fundraising materials contains recycled turf in the pad, the town will be a recipient of two of the three, and a contributor to the first.  

It is hard to imagine basing any decision on how to proceed with the field renovation on the contracted site evaluation if the two above mentioned considerations are excluded.  It is not sufficient to say it is too late to take these concerns under consideration as the consequences of guessing incorrectly about their impacts could be devastating.  The contract should be amended to include these services. But in addition. we believe that the entire process should be brought out of the superintendent’s office and into the public sphere and handed off to a track and field subcommittee whose membership will have people with the necessary background and expertise to have anticipated and included the concerns that we have raised and who will ensure that these substantial concerns receive a full public airing.  

Maura & Art Keene

Maura Keene is a retired obstetrician-gynecologist at BayState 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 a resident of District 3, Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at UMass, and the Managing Editor of the Amherst Indy. His four children are graduates of Amherst Regional High School. He was head coach of the ARHS girls cross country team for 17 years.

Spread the love

2 thoughts on “Letter: Installing 2.5 Acres of Impermeable Plastic at High School Could Destroy Remaining Grass Fields

  1. The PFAS factor alone should warrant NEVER using artificial turf. It’s infuriating that this is even being considered.

  2. It’s an incredibly specious argument to claim that the “eco-friendly” artificial turf identified by the fundraisers is PFAS-free, or low-PFAS. The grass blades themselves may or may not be PFAS-free. But the required shockpad — the part of the field that I assume goes directly over the soil, and which is then covered with a layer of sand — is made with 80% recycled artificial turf, which DOES contain PFAS. And if I’m remembering my geology correctly, water and things it picks up as it moves around flow pretty easily through sand. So unless these layers are somehow encapsulated to prevent the infiltration of water, exactly how this is all “eco-friendly” escapes me.

    Here’s the link to the Hurricane Boosters’ presentation on their choice of artificial turf: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1SvwiMQ6WsLrjXw0Dn5WUALbXQXd9vHVn/view

Leave a Reply

The Amherst Indy welcomes your comment on this article. Comments must be signed with your real, full name & contact information; and must be factual and civil. See the Indy comment policy for more information.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.