PORTSMOUTH — Local citizen’s group Non Toxic Portsmouth has reported, through independent testing, that Portsmouth High School’s artificial turf field contains potentially harmful chemicals known as poly and perfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS).
However, city leaders and their consultants have refuted the science behind the report.
In a June 1 letter to the City Council, the Ecology Center, an environmental research organization based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, warned that independent lab testing of samples collected by Non Toxic Portsmouth at Tom Daubney Field had a total fluorine content of 79 parts per million (ppm), indicating PFAS were present in or on the turf fibers.
“There’s no doubt in the world,” Ted Jankowski of Non Toxic Portsmouth said of those findings, “PFAS is there.”
Peter Rice, the city’s director of public works, said that claim is based more in opinion than fact.
“That’s like saying anything that has carbon in it has cyanide in it,” Rice said. “You can’t equate the two. You have to test for the specific compounds.”
According to city consultants at Weston & Sampson, of the the more than 5,700 PFAS compounds, only 30 currently can be tested for under EPA guidelines. Marie Rudiman, a toxicologist and human health risk assessor for Weston & Sampson, said the presence of fluorine does not equate to the presence of PFAS.
“Total fluorine is an extremely non-specific method that can indicate the presence of any fluorinated compound,” she said. “Fluorine is in the Earth’s crust, in the atmosphere, and found in many of the foods we eat. Many cities and towns (including Portsmouth) fluoridate their water. No plastic can be fluorine-free. Therefore, Weston & Sampson does not feel it scientifically appropriate to require that synthetic turf be fluorine-free.”
When asked specifically about the link between total fluorine and PFAS, Jankowski said, “More than 1 ppm indicates there’s PFAS in it.” His group cites October 2019 reports by the Boston Globe and the Intercept on similar independent tests overseen by the Ecology Center finding, for the first time, evidence of PFAS in synthetic fields in two southeastern Massachusetts communities.
PFAS are man-made chemicals used in products worldwide since the 1950s, including firefighting foam, non-stick cookware, water-repellent fabrics, and food packaging. In addition to being a suspected carcinogen, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry states PFAS exposure can harm childhood development, increase cholesterol levels, hurt the immune system and interfere with the human body’s hormones.
The report by Non Toxic Portsmouth comes more than a month after the City Council, in a 5-4 majority vote, proceeded to move forward with the bidding process to design an athletic complex containing new multi-purpose, synthetic turf recreation fields near the Community Campus off West Road. Plans call for three playing fields, with first phase bringing a single playing field and prep work for a second. The fields are contractually obligated to be PFAS-free, and will be filled with Safeshell, a more natural alternative to the crumb rubber filling found at Tom Daubney Field and artificial turf fields throughout the state and country. Safeshell is made from ground walnut shells and was unanimously voted for by the City Council.
Non Toxic Portsmouth is urging the council to hire an independent third party to test any recommended synthetic turf field before construction starts. The group has long advocated for the city to build new natural grass fields, saying it would cut costs, eliminate health risks and better protect the environment.
“I just can’t believe you would want to buy 50 tons of unrecyclable plastic and have kids play on it,” Jankowski said.
The city decided to go with synthetic fields at the council level due to playability (particularly in the spring) and need, Rice said. He added that there are no plans at this time to test or renovate the playing surface at Tom Daubney Field.
“We truly respect what the position is here,” Rice said, “and we are comfortable that we’re providing a safe product for the kids to be playing on. We obviously wouldn’t be if it wasn’t safe.”
Exeter, Oyster River and Berwick Academy are other Seacoast schools with synthetic turf fields. St. Thomas Aquinas will be another after its current $2 million athletics project is complete.
*Original article online at https://www.seacoastonline.com/news/20200613/citizens-group-says-test-shows-pfas-in-phs-athletic-field