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Fielding harm: no to PFAS

October 14, 2022

This piece represents the opinion of the Bowdoin Orient Editorial Board.

In its Offer of the College, Bowdoin promises students the opportunity “To count Nature a familiar acquaintance.”

In keeping with this goal, Bowdoin has served as a leader in environmental protection in a variety of ways. This year, Bowdoin celebrates the 50th anniversary of its Environmental Studies program. The College has made tremendous strides in its initiatives to become a sustainably constructed campus, including continually growing the number of LEED certified buildings on campus and has committed to being fossil fuel-free by 2042. These reflect just a few of the College’s many efforts to create a green campus.

Much of the College’s renovation plan for the Pickard Field complex incorporates these values. The construction of more sustainable, wired, outdoor lighting will replace current temporary lighting, which burns fossil fuels. Additionally, the College is making conscious efforts to increase accessibility for students and community members by paving paths to the fields.

However, the plan to install artificial turf compromises the College’s sustainability goals. How are we expected to endorse the college’s decision to bring knowingly harmful chemicals onto our fields and into our communities?

PFAS chemicals—otherwise known as forever chemicals—are known pollutants that interrupt our endocrine and immune systems. These chemicals are found in all artificial turf fields. These chemicals can enter runoff and negatively impact the plants and animals that comprise the nature walks and densely forested paths Bowdoin is best known for. Additionally, once that runoff reaches a local town’s water reserve it can further contaminate the region’s water supply.

We commend Bowdoin’s history of environmental and community consciousness and urge the College to embody these values in practice. The Common Good that we revere so deeply on campus should extend to the good and health of these plants, animals and local communities.

There are two ways of interpreting student use of the new fields. The College claimed in a town hall in September that the new fields would be used by “over 200 varsity athletes, 200 club athletes and hundreds of intramural participants.” According to the College’s logic, then, the implementation of PFAS fields would directly expose a large swath of our athletes and our broader student community to these harmful chemicals.

We also question the move to introduce PFAS to campus given the landscape of increasing restrictions on these chemicals. Last year, Maine passed a ban on PFAS chemicals that will take effect by January 2030. This ban was provoked by the danger PFAS chemicals have been found to pose to the state’s agriculture and to people.

Massachusetts and Colorado are among the other states that have adopted restrictions on PFAS in the broader environmental movement in restricting these dangerous chemicals. Does Bowdoin really want to take a step backwards from a national environmental trend?

We urge Bowdoin to remember its commitment to the Common Good—the plants, animals, communities and people we engage with daily. The College should reconsider this proposal for additional turf fields on campus. It’s not worth the health and safety of those who call Maine home.

This editorial represents the majority opinion of the Editorial Board, which is comprised of Julia Dickinson, Michael Gordon, Nikki Harris, Talia Traskos-Hart, Juliana Vandermark, Halina Bennet and Seamus Frey.


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