Toxic chemicals are found in blades of artificial turfOctober 11, 2019
The test results showed that the turf contained elevated levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl chemicals known as PFAS, which have been linked to kidney cancer, low infant birth weights, and a range of diseases. The findings have raised concerns about the safety of millions of square feet of artificial turf installed in recent years on public fields and playgrounds across the country.
“This is huge. It’s the first time that PFAS chemistry used in plastic production has been found in finished consumer products,” said Jeff Gearhart, research director of the Ecology Center, a nonprofit environmental research group based in Michigan that tested the turf. “This finding is maybe the tip of the iceberg. We suspect these PFAS chemicals may be found in other plastic building and consumer products.”
The concentrations of chemicals found in the wetlands near Franklin’s Beaver Field are below current federal and state health guidelines but well above standards some states have recently adopted in light of research suggesting that even low PFAS concentrations in drinking water can be harmful. Concerns about PFAS, called “forever chemicals” because they never fully degrade, have mounted in recent years. Developed in the 1940s, the chemicals have been used in products such as flame retardants, nonstick pans, pizza boxes, clothing, and furniture.
In Franklin, questions about the discarded turf led local environmental activists to send swatches of the turf and water samples for testing. The Ecology Center, working with the New England office of the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a Washington D.C.-based advocacy group, found that the swatch of turf from Franklin contained 190 parts per trillion of one of the most common PFAS chemicals, well above federal safety standards for drinking water.
The group recently filed a complaint with state environmental officials about the discarded turf, saying it violated wetland protections. The water samples there contained nearly 10 parts per trillion of the same chemical found in the turf, as well as a combined 40 parts per trillion of two other PFAS chemicals.
Jamie Hellen, the Franklin town administrator, said he had no idea that the old turf was left there or that it was potentially toxic. He said he is waiting for guidance from the state Department of Environmental Protection on how to proceed.
“We will work with DEP to resolve the matter,” he said.
He noted there is no definitive link between the chemicals found in the turf and those in the water. After the Globe inquired about the piles of old turf, crews removed the material within hours.
The Ecology Center also tested samples of turf installed this summer at Oliver Ames High School in Easton and found similarly high levels of another PFAS chemical. In addition, they tested eight other samples of turf blades, which they…