The Brunswick Planning Board granted conditional approval to Bowdoin College’s Pickard Field Athletic Complex renovation plan Wednesday evening after determining the project would not pose significant health or environmental risks.

The unanimous decision came after dozens of locals spent months lobbying town officials to slow or kill the project, which they feared could lead to disruptive light, noise and chemical pollution.

Wednesday’s meeting focused primarily on the issue of PFAS, a class of chemicals that has drawn scrutiny as researchers have discovered links to several types of cancers.

In its project application, Bowdoin provided scientific analyses concluding each of the college’s three proposed artificial turf fields contained either no PFAS compounds or only trace amounts at levels far below limits set by the EPA and the most restrictive individual states. Maine has yet to set soil concentration guidelines for the specific PFAS compounds in question. Yet the Planning Board, noting the complexity of the science, opted in December to table the application until an independent consultant could review the available research.

Consultant Russ Abel of Sanborn Head detailed his group’s findings Wednesday, which largely mirrored Bowdoin College’s — even conservative estimates indicated the fields would not leach PFAS beyond regulatory limits. For example, if 90% of the turf’s PFAS leached into the property’s detention pond in a single rainstorm, the runoff would still contain the chemicals at a concentration of less than 4 parts per trillion.

This finding did not ease the concerns of several members of the public, who noted science on PFAS compounds is still emerging and future regulations may be much stricter.


“You don’t want to be the last person that painted your house with lead paint,” said Bowdoin College ecology Professor Vladimir Douhovnikoff. “You don’t want to be the last person that smoked in the kitchen with your grandparents, and you don’t want to be the last institution that laid down turf that then leached PFAS into the watershed.”

Members of the public pushed the Planning Board to require annual monitoring of the fields and retention pond for PFAS, a restriction Bowdoin’s attorney called “completely impracticable” and “unprecedented.”

The board will require the college to test the specific turf and infill material it plans to use before installation, but its members did not impose other restrictions, noting their narrow role.

“Our job is to make sure current ordinances are enforced and upheld,” said board member Art Boulay. “For those of you who would like to see us put the kibosh to these artificial fields, you’re essentially saying you’d like us to apply laws that have yet to be passed or standards that have yet to be approved and studied. I can tell you what would happen if I was their legal counsel. I’d say, ‘Fine. I’m going to appeal, and I’m going to win.’”

Resident Tom Kelly said he was disappointed with the board’s decision not to mandate additional monitoring and that the neighbors who have fought the project may meet again to discuss potential next steps.

The college will need a permit from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection before it can begin work on the project, which it hopes to begin this spring and finish in time for its spring 2024 sports season.

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