[No.1] What’s with PFAS in artificial turf fields. SynTurf.org, Newton, Mass. December 31, 2021. The disposal of artificial turf fields has been a matter of concern in the United States as far back as October 2008, if not earlier. [Fn 1]. Recently, interest in this issue has grown as fast as the mounds of discarded synthetic turf carpets and their infill piling up in landfills. In September 2018 a Dutch documentary produced by the program Zembla and aired on the Dutch public broadcasting system (BNNVARA) brought the message to Europe. [Fn 2]. The program garnered the attention of the British press immediately and other US stories followed. [Fn 3]. So when The Boston Globe published the picture of two activists - Kyla Bennett and Tracy Stewart of Medway, Massachusetts – standing next to a pile of discarded rolls of artificial turf in the nearby Town of Franklin – the optics suggested yet another disposal story. [Fn 4]. The title of the Globe article however sounded yet another problem with synthetic turf fields – the presence of the so-called Forever Chemicals – PFAS - per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances. [Fn 5].
Two days prior to the Globe piece, The Intercept published an article sounding a similar alarm. [Fn 6]. Earlier, in September, a study by EcologyCenter and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility had found “elemental fluorine in artificial turf blades, suggesting that PFAS is an ingredient in the carpet grass fibers or a byproduct of the manufacturing process.” They also found specific PFAS chemicals in discarded turf backing and in an adjacent wetland. [Fn 7].
So - what are PFAS and why should their presence in the environment concern us? For the answer to these questions we turn to Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI). It is housed at U Mass. Lowell. [Fn 8].
One of TURI’s about PFAS is titled “Per- and Poly-fluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) in Artificial Turf Carpet” (February 2020). [Fn 9]. Per this publication, PFAS are a category of chemicals that contain multiple fluorine atoms bonded to a chain of carbon atoms. Thousands of such chemicals exist. PFAS chemicals have properties that can be useful in a variety of settings, such as water and stain resistance. They also pose concerns, including persistence, bioaccumulation, and adverse health effects. [Fn 10]. Most of the thousands of PFAS break down into a common set of degradation products. These degradation products are characterized by very high persistence in the environment. Persistent chemicals do not break down under normal environmental conditions, and some can last in the environment for hundreds of years or longer [thus, the term “forever chemicals”]. As a result, introducing these chemicals into the environment has lasting consequences. [Fn 11] (citations omitted).
All PFAS pose some degree of bioaccumulation concern, especially in air-breathing organisms. In other words, they can accumulate in plants, animals, and humans. The health effects documented for some PFAS include effects on the endocrine system, including liver and thyroid, as well as metabolic effects, developmental effects, neurotoxicity, and immunotoxicity. [Fn 12] (citations omitted).
According to TURI, PFAS have been found as drinking water contaminants in many states. For example, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) has worked with municipalities to gather data on levels of six PFAS in groundwater and drinking water. According to MassDEP, since 2013, the sum of the
concentrations of the six PFAS compounds above 20 ppt [parts per trillion] have been detected at over 20 PWSs [public water systems] in Massachusetts. MassDEP has issued a proposed regulation that would set a Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) in drinking water of 20 ppt for the sum of the concentrations of these six PFAS. MassDEP has also finalized and adopted standards for groundwater cleanup. [Fn 13] (citations omitted).
In regard to PFAS in the artificial turf carpet, the TURI publication makes the point that determining what chemicals are present in a product can be challenging because chemical contents are frequently not disclosed by the manufacturer. Tests of the backing of both new and old discarded carpets have found evidence of the presence of PFAS in the material. One PFAS chemical was detected in the backing of the new turf sample. Specifically, tests detected 6:2-fluorotelomer sulfonic acid (known by the abbreviation 6:2 FTSA). 6:2 FTSA has a 6-carbon chain, and is considered a short-chain PFAS because of the way in which it breaks down. In many cases, short-chain PFAS have been adopted as substitutes for longer-chain PFAS. Tests also detected perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) in the backing of the discarded, older turf sample. PFOS is a long-chain PFAS that is no longer manufactured in the US due to concerns about health and environmental effects. Researchers also tested a number of synthetic turf fiber samples and found that all of them contained quantities of fluorine that suggest the presence of PFAS. These quantities were in the parts per million range, but given the large surface areas of a typical turf carpet, researchers note these may represent a source of PFAS in the environment. [Fn 14] (citations omitted).
According to TURI, one possible reason for the use of PFAS in the artificial turf grass blades is to serve as an extrusion aid. That is, PFAS is added to the polymer mixture (which is a non-fluorinated plastic) before it is passed through an extruder. An extruder is manufacturing equipment that melts and forms the polymer mixture into its desired shape. The PFAS helps to prevent the polymer from sticking to the extruder. According to a researcher, artificial turf grass blades were previously made from low-density polyethylene, but the material had poor durability. Newer polymer mixtures have greater durability, but were not compatible with existing extrusion equipment. Therefore, PFAS were added in order to facilitate use of the new polymer mixture with existing equipment. [Fn 15] (citations omitted).
We ask - In light of the foregoing regarding PFAS - and also the presence of other substances of concern like phthalates, heavy metals and other toxins (some of them carcinogens) in synthetic turf field systems, should landfills that are not lined accept this new form of waste?
7. PEER, “Industry in a Dither about PFAS in Synthetic Turf - Non-Denials and Trade Secret Claims Prompt More Testing of Carpet,” Press Release, 24 October 2019 (pdf).
8. TURI is a multi-disciplinary research, education, and policy center, was established by the Massachusetts Toxics Use Reduction Act of 1989. The Institute sponsors and conducts research, organizes education and training programs, and provides technical support to help Massachusetts companies and communities reduce the use of toxic chemicals.
[No. 2] PFAS gets a toehold in the debate about artificial turf woes. SynTurf.org, Newton, Mass. 31 December 2021. There are two stories of note regarding the presence of PFAS in artificial turf fields. The first story has to do with the ongoing debate on Martha’s Vineyard (Cape Cod), Massachusetts, where the Board of Heath is considering prohibit the “[i]nstallation, storage, and dumping of artificial turf containing PFAS.” The term “artificial turf” is defined as any synthetic, carpet-like material made to resemble turf and used as a permanently installed surface for landscaping, pets, sports, putting greens, and playgrounds.” The prohibition applies to all property in the Town of Oak Bluffs. Any person who violates any provision of the regulation will be fined to the tune of not less than $200.00 but no more than $1000.00. See “Restriction on the Installation of Artificial Turf Containing PFAS in the Town of Oak Bluffs” [Draft] (pdf). On December 14, 2021, the Board of Health held a hearing on the draft regulation. No action was taken. Instead the discussion, according to news report, centered on the dangers of PFAS to the environment and human health. Source: Rich Saltzberg, “PFAS condemned at O.B. hearing - Scientists compare PFAS to dioxin; say the chemicals are biggest U.S. pollution problem,” on MV Times, 14 December 2021, at https://www.mvtimes.com/2021/12/14/pfas-condemned-ob-hearing/ (pdf) .
The other PFAS story of note comes from the City of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. According to a news report in Portsmouth Herald, City Councilor Peter Whelan believes that there are “PFAS chemicals in the city’s new artificial turf playing field, even though the City Council voted that it must be PFAS free as a condition of its purchase.” The City Council has “voted unanimously to approve a motion Whelan made to require City Manager Karen Conard to commission ‘independent third party testing for PFAS in the new artificial turf playing field.’ Portsmouth’s new field opened this year. It is a product of FieldTurf, which has fields installed at locations on the Seacoast, nationally and globally. Similar discussions about turf fields have occurred in some other communities around the country.” “ ‘I don’t know whether that’s because of the city’s consultants, a salesman or the manufacturer, but we were misled and there’s got to be consequences for that,’ ” Whelan told The Portsmouth Herald. Source: Jeff McMenemy, “Portsmouth to test for PFAS in new turf field. Is it dangerous? City says no. Others disagree,” on Portsmouth Herald, 10 December 2021, at https://www.seacoastonline.com/story/news/local/2021/12/10/portsmouth-nh-test-pfas-turf-field-amid-disagreement-danger/6447547001/(pdf).