To the Editor and our Board of Selectmen:
As a concerned Wilton resident, former Wilton Inland Wetlands commissioner, scientist and educator, I am opposed to the Town’s proposed installation of artificial turf on athletic fields in Allen’s Meadow over an aquifer designated as future drinking water. I echo the concerns raised by Shawn Gregory in his Letter to the Editor published on Feb. 28 about the health risks and impact to our town from installation of artificial turf and raise some additional thoughts here.
I urge the Board of Selectmen to follow the lead of other state and local governments, including Boston, which banned the installation of artificial turf in city parks last year. The Town Council [sic] should remove the artificial turf proposal from consideration in this year’s budget given the current and emerging scientific evidence of the dangers of artificial turf and federal studies that are still underway.
Artificial turf contains perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) chemicals. PFAS are a group of manufactured chemicals that due to their chemical composition allow them to accumulate and remain in the environment contaminating ground and surface water and our wildlife unless they are actively remediated. This is why they are widely known as “forever chemicals” and are being studied and banned from use.
Can Wilton risk proceeding with the proposal given that it looks like artificial turf fields will likely need to be remediated? And if so, who will pay for this?
Proceeding with this proposal seems like a huge gamble at a time when other government leaders are following the science and are looking to prevent contamination by phasing out or banning artificial turf and setting stricter drinking water standards for PFAS. In its’ PFAS Strategic Roadmap for 2021-2024, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has called on every “federal, Tribal, state and local” government “to exercise increased and sustained leadership to accelerate progress to clean up PFAS contamination, prevent new contamination, and make game-changing breakthroughs in the scientific understanding of PFAS.”
While our First Selectwoman recently sent a letter stating that this is only an emerging science, studies show public health hazards of PFAS and new studies continue to emerge showing the hazards of artificial turf. The US National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (“NIEHS”) (part of the National Institutes of Health), the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (“ATSC”) (part of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and other federal agencies recognize multiple public health effects associated with PFAS exposure. The NIEHS states that the, “research conducted to date reveals possible links between human exposures to PFAS and adverse health outcomes. These health effects include altered metabolism, fertility, reduced fetal growth and increased risk of being overweight or obese, increased risk of some cancers, and reduced ability of the immune system to fight infections.”
Whether the turf may be coconut-based or not misses the point. Coconut-based turf also contains plastic and other components with PFAS that can enter the ecosystem. Over time the substitution of one PFAS for another has also had detrimental effects. In fact, the EU recognizes the public safety health risks and socioeconomic dangers associated with PFAS and is working to phase out all PFAS unless proven essential for society. The EU is also addressing PFAS concerns on a global scale due to their potential for long-range transport.
What will it cost the Town and its residents for future remediation? A concrete example of what remediation costs may look like is the costs being expended by the Town of Easton, MA. Easton is currently paying $9.2 million dollars to remediate PFAS found in drinking water. Saving a little money now by using artificial turf rather than natural grass, may not be worth the ultimate cost of the turf, future end-of-life disposal and remediation. There have been some significant settlements with PFAS manufacturers to remediate PFAS contamination when the manufacturer did not disclose the potential health hazards. If our local government proceeds given the currently known and emerging risks, will a similar settlement be available to Wilton?
The CT Department of Environment and Energy Protection (DEEP) suggested to me that the Town conduct an ecological risk assessment comparing turf to grass. My understanding to date is that none has been done.
It seems reckless to proceed without a full risk assessment and understanding of the public health risks and impact to the community especially when children will be using the fields. Also, the potential financial liability to the Town could be substantial given [the] EPA’s call to action to prevent PFAS contamination and the current and emerging risks and government action. Does Wilton even know what types of claims may be brought by impacted individuals such as:
- students or their parents on their behalf,
- the CT Department of Transportation, the proposed location in Allen’s Meadow.
Besides remediation, claims could include costs for medical treatments, filtering PFAS from drinking water, etc. There are also risks and costs associated with the end-of-life disposal of a turf field. There are no companies that recycle artificial turf and it is anyone’s guess whether the municipal dump will be able to accept worn-out turf once [the] EPA finalizes its regulations. It is imperative that the Town understand these risks and educate itself and our residents before voting on any part of this project such as the vote scheduled for Monday, March 6 to approve a contract with Landtech for turf and bubble design [estimates].
I recommend that every citizen and Town Council [sic] member watch the recording of the “Hazards of Artificial Turf” webinar held by the Norwalk River Watershed Association on March 1 to become familiar with the dangers and health hazards of PFAS in artificial turf which is proposed to be installed in Allen’s Meadow. From both a financial and health standpoint, I urge the Town Council [sic] to consider a less risky alternative.
Theodora Pinou, Ph.D.