If you support Bowdoin College athletics, you know that competition in the New England Small College Athletic Conference gets more fierce every year.

Many colleges in the league have invested in new, state-of-the art facilities to gain an edge on their rivals. Bowdoin has recently upgraded its football field, stadium and outdoor track, but the playing fields around Farley Field House remain basically the same as they were some 30 years ago. It makes sense that the college is planning to upgrade them.

But Bowdoin’s $15 million proposal to install light towers, four artificial-turf fields, bleachers and other amenities poses serious challenges to the community, especially in the form of PFAS contamination from artificial grass.

Even in low concentrations, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS or “forever chemicals” can cause cancer, liver problems, hormone disruption and abnormal fetal development in humans, not to mention environmental contamination for miles around. Just ask the Maine farmers who have experienced heavy PFAS contamination by fertilizer “sludge.” Such fertilizer turned their land into environmental disaster zones, with tragic consequences for the health and well-being of all creatures in the area.

Bowdoin and Sebago Technics (the company it has hired to do the work) argue that a “clean rubber” turf poses less risk than older models. But a study by the Toxic Use Reduction Institute (TURI) at UMass Lowell suggests that artificial turf sheds PFAS because of the extruding techniques used to make the grass. Such chemicals remain in the environment for hundreds of years.

This is one reason that Boston has recently decided to limit artificial turf in its parks and public spaces. Cities and towns across the country from Los Gatos, California, to Woodbridge, Connecticut, are making or considering similar moves. Just last summer, Portsmouth, New Hampshire, experienced a nightmare scenario when new artificial turf that was supposed to be PFAS-free turned out to contain low levels of PFAS, sparking community outrage.


Bowdoin can avoid these dangerous and costly mistakes by proceeding cautiously. It can also become the environmental leader it should be. The college’s website, after all, promises that “environmental sustainability is a core value at Bowdoin that is seen in operational decision-making all across campus.” How does the redevelopment plan uphold such a “core value”?

In addition to adding acres of artificial turf, the plan calls for the destruction of several acres of trees, disruption to bird and insect habitats and an increase to the college’s carbon footprint. Water running through the new fields runs directly into the Mare Brook watershed, which in turn feeds Casco Bay.

This watershed is already undergoing multiyear, federally funded mitigation as a result of decades of PFAS contamination from the Brunswick Naval Air station. Additional contamination is the last thing anyone needs.

Bowdoin should proceed with caution. Why invest millions of dollars in artificial fields that will expose the community to unwanted chemicals and may cost millions more down the road in health care, legal claims, and mitigation or removal? The redevelopment plan should be a cause for concern for every student athlete – not to mention coach, administrator and trustee – at the college.

It is certainly a cause of alarm for Brunswick citizens and wildlife who face the prospect of decades of environmental contamination and attendant health risks.

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