Read the full article by E.A. Crunden and Ariel Wittenberg (Greenwire)
“In need of a new athletic field and already concerned about ‘forever chemicals’ in its drinking water, the city council of Portsmouth, N.H.,voted two years ago to install a new synthetic turf field only if it was ‘PFAS-free.’
PFAS, or per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a family of thousands of compounds that do not break down in the environment. Some have been linked to health problems including kidney and liver issues, along with various cancers. The City Council did not want to take a chance that the field could create more contamination.
But once installed, testing performed by a local advocacy group found organic fluorine in the field, an indicator that it might contain PFAS. City-ordered tests for specific compounds confirmed there were indeed some PFAS in the turf. Now, the City Council appears poised to accept potential athlete and environmental exposure, angering concerned residents who want the city to sue manufacturers.
‘Where is the accountability from the city [when] we did not get the turf the City Council approved? You should be upset about that,’ asked Portsmouth resident Andrea Amico at a June council meeting. ‘You should not be setting a precedent that a manufacturer can lie to you in writing without any consequences.’
The city’s experience has emerged as a cautionary tale for many other communities across the country grappling with whether to replace degrading natural athletic fields with artificial turf.
‘Portsmouth is a really good example of [how] it’s really hard to put the horse back in the barn after the doors are open,’ said Kyla Bennett, director of science policy at Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, who has worked with a number of environmental groups battling turf fields in their communities. ‘The moral of the story in Portsmouth is it is much easier to investigate this stuff first, before you put it in, than it is to deal with the fallout.’
Three years ago, when Portsmouth was considering how to restore its athletic field complex, The Boston Globe reported that tests of athletic turf in Franklin, Mass., contained organic fluorine. Portsmouth is no stranger to PFAS, which contaminate part of the city’s water supply due to the use of aqueous firefighting foam at a former Air Force base there.
The city was considering a turf field because soggy New England springs mean natural grass fields are out of commission for much of the season. But Portsmouth did not want to further imperil its drinking water.
Aware of the Massachusetts findings, the city’s consultants — Weston & Sampson — promised in a February 2020 public meeting that the chemicals would not be an issue. In a PowerPoint slide, they said they would ‘require PFAS-free materials in the bid specifications,’ and pledged that they already had documentation from two manufacturers to that end. That included a promise from the company FieldTurf that ‘Our supplier has confirmed that their products are free of PFAS, PFOS and fluorine.’
Portsmouth ultimately contracted with that company and approved the$3.5 million artificial athletic field.
The conditions comforted Amico, whose family already had elevated levels of PFAS in their blood due to the Air Force base. ‘I signed my kids up for soccer. I’m thinking, ‘Oh, it’s PFAS-free, it’s great,’’ she said. ‘The city made us feel safe.’
But local advocacy group Non Toxic Communities argued that PFAS-free turf does not exist. On the day the field was being installed, member Ted Jankowski cut samples from rolls of the artificial turf before it could even be put in the ground. Those samples were sent to a lab in Michigan, which found high levels of organic fluorine.” …