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Don’t fear the turf!

December 2, 2022

This piece represents the opinion of the author .

Bowdoin is committed to sustainability and responsible stewardship of the environment and always prioritizes the health and safety of our students and community when we make decisions about materials for capital projects. Lately, these commitments have been blurred by misinformation and conjecture about our plans to improve the Pickard fields for our students. Principal among these has been the concern that the College will install artificial turf containing PFAS that will contaminate the local watershed. This is incorrect.

Throughout the review process, which has included information meetings for neighbors and regulatory sessions with the opportunity for public comment, we have acknowledged that we share the concerns about PFAS and said that we would research turf materials and evaluate relevant data before choosing a product. In fact, we began this due diligence early in the conceptual-design phase. On Wednesday, the College submitted its final plan for the Pickard improvements to the town. It includes detailed information about the FieldTurf products that we plan to use at Pickard.

As promised, the selection of FieldTurf follows extensive independent research and analysis to make sure the College is meeting its pledge to protect the environment and the health and safety of our community and neighbors. To satisfy our own questions about the safety of artificial turf, we engaged TRC, a Connecticut-based global leader in the toxicological assessment and mitigation of risks associated with PFAS and other emerging contaminants. We asked TRC to advise us on the selection of a specific turf product, to validate PFAS claims made by turf fabricators under consideration for our project, and to independently test samples of their carpet and infill products. The result is that the turf product we selected is not made with PFAS products. An extensive technical memorandum from TRC is included in the public documents submitted Wednesday to the Brunswick Planning Board.

PFAS is already a fact of life in existing soil and consumer products like dental floss, cosmetics, food containers, upholstery and many other everyday products. We are in no way minimizing the potential harmful effects of these chemicals. We are simply working to ensure that this project won’t be adding PFAS chemicals, and we will test the turf product upon receipt to confirm this before installation.

While fueling concern about turf products, opponents are ignoring the very real and positive impacts the proposed stormwater improvements associated with this project will have on the water quality of Mare Brook. Bowdoin has been actively involved in the town’s watershed planning efforts since Brunswick first applied for grant money to assess the water quality of the brook in 2009. We have participated on committees overseeing the 2015–2016 watershed assessment process and the recent 2022 Mare Brook Watershed Management Plan. As holders of a site permit with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, we are required to offset the urban impacts of our development projects. With the Pickard project, the College will implement a recommendation of the town’s watershed management plan by using new and improved methods of stormwater treatment to provide three additional layers of treatment at the site, resulting in a net decrease in pollutants entering the watershed.

The planned improvements at Pickard will make a huge positive difference for our students, but I acknowledge that they aren’t popular with those who would prefer the fields to remain as they are today. Our goal, as it has been for this property for nearly a century, is to maintain the fields responsibly as a fully functional and modern collegiate athletic facility in compliance with local ordinances, with sensitivity to our neighbors and in keeping with our commitment to responsible environmental stewardship. The plan we propose achieves all of this.

Matt Orlando is the Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration & Treasurer


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