Artificial system

Wu blocks new artificial turfs in Boston parks and refrains from calling it a ban

Mayor Michelle Wu halted the installation of a new artificial turf pitch in a city park last week, but city officials did not call the decision a ban.

“The city has a preference for grass playing surfaces whenever possible,” a city spokesperson said in a statement to GBH News. “There is no ban on installing sod in the city of Boston.”

The clarification came after a single phrase appeared in plans to rebuild the city’s Malcolm X Park in Roxbury. A note in the plan read, “Mayor Wu has ordered that no new artificial turf fields be installed in the City of Boston.”

Kyla Bennett, director of science policy at Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, said the environmental nonprofit is announcing the statement as a sign of the city’s support for recent health findings about a group of known chemicals. under the name PFAS, or so-called “chemicals forever,” in artificial turf.

And the alleged ban made headlines in Britain’s The Guardian newspaper, which published a report on the matter.

Bennett said Wu appears to be backtracking, saying the city hasn’t banned artificial turf even though the notation is self-explanatory. Wu does not elaborate on the matter, but Bennett said it may be to avoid legal action.

“They chase in no time,” Bennett said of the turf industry. “They fight as hard as they can to do this thing for as long as they can. They know it’s dangerous, but they don’t care because they make a lot of money.

In response to the blocking of the future turf installation, Melanie Taylor, President and CEO of the Synthetic Turf Council, condemned Mayor Wu’s actions.

“The mayor’s decision will only succeed in denying Bostonians year-round access to playgrounds,” Taylor said. “We will continue to work with public authorities to educate them on the proven safety and reliability benefits of synthetic turf systems.”

The debate over installing new turf in Boston parks comes just months after the Environmental Protection Agency issued a series of health advisories about perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances in drinking water.

“This is the first time the EPA has said, ‘OK, we got it wrong, this stuff is really dangerous,'” Bennett said.

Chemicals are used in a wide variety of products, including artificial grass. PFAS do not break down easily, and due to their widespread use, the chemicals have been found in water supplies and soil. Exposure has been linked to a myriad of health risks ranging from developmental problems to certain types of cancer.

“Our exposure to them is what we call pervasive, which means almost every person in the world … has levels of PFAS chemicals in their bodies,” said Dr. Julia Varshavsky, assistant professor of environmental health and Northeastern University .

According to Bennett, children who play on artificial turf pitches are also among those most at risk of exposure. The turf is made of plastic blades of grass and a layer of crumbled black rubber filler from old tires. These crumbs can be accidentally ingested while children are playing. And the drapes can also wear down enough to release PFAS as the fibers break down.

Bennett said Wu never intended to make a public announcement banning artificial turf.

“I wish she had done it more publicly,” Bennett said. “It was just an accident that we found it in that document and blew it up. She probably doesn’t like the fact that we did that.

Phil Brown, co-director of the Social Science and Environmental Health Institute at Northeastern University, said cities like Boston have a major influence on how states and the federal government respond to human-made environmental threats. He said Massachusetts already exceeds EPA regulations on allowed PFAS chemicals, but he hopes measures like Wu’s — even if unintentional — encourage further scrutiny.

“Towns and cities can do a lot and they can influence the state,” he said. “We are now waiting to see this pressure build up on the EPA, so that at the federal level, they [become] regulations.”