The Oak Bluffs board of health opened the floodgates Tuesday to comments and opinions on a draft regulation that would ban artificial turf in town — at the same time opening up fresh wounds in the divisive athletic fields project at the regional high school.

The draft rule comes amid growing concern about groundwater contamination caused by PFAS — a large group of slow-decomposing chemicals. If adopted, the rule would prohibit the “installation, storage and dumping of all artificial turf containing PFAS” on any property in Oak Bluffs.

It also would likely put the brakes on the hot-button $7 million project to overhaul the regional high school athletic fields using turf.

Town health agent Meegan Lancaster said the board of health has been in talks with the school about the effects of PFAS since the turf project came onto the board’s radar in August, around the time the Martha’s Vineyard Commission voted 10-6 to approve the plan. “There’s a lot of concern surrounding PFAS right now . . . they wanted to look at this further,” Ms. Lancaster said of the board of health members.

Tuesday’s online meeting was dominated by experts and environmental advocates from around the country who warned about the dangers of PFAS. Spokesmen for the high school project also attended to vigorously defend the environmental integrity of their plan.

“All these PFAS that we’re finding in the turf . . . should be of grave concern to Martha’s Vineyard,” said Kyla Bennett, director of science policy at Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a nonprofit advocacy group.

She said the synthetic turf planned for the main field at the high school would introduce an unacceptable level of PFAS into the environment.

“I think it behooves you to go forward with this ban,” Ms. Bennett said.

Christian Huntress, whose firm designed the high school project, defended the planned turf field, saying among other things that a rigorous vetting process went into deciding what turf would be used.

When the project was approved by the MVC in August, developers agreed to a number of mitigation plans for microplastic pollution. A trench drain with a microfilter around the field to help capture plastics in runoff and a microplastic reduction action plan are among the measures planned.

“We took products and specifications very seriously,” Mr. Huntress said. “The products that we’ve specified have been reviewed.”

Amy Houghton, chairman of the school committee, said that the board of health meeting Tuesday caught school officials somewhat by surprise with its heavily-stacked lineup of experts and scant prior notice.

Ms. Houghton said the board of health notified Mr. Huntress of the meeting in a brief email late Friday afternoon.

“Our heads-up was, please find attached an agenda of the meeting,” she said.

“This was a prepared meeting where the board of health had called witnesses. We knew nothing about that,”she continued. “What happened was a very calculated presentation. And that’s not at all how it was painted to us.”

Ms. Lancaster said the board had previously heard on more than one occasion from a controversial scientific consultant for the schools, Laura Green, who had defended the use of PFAS. The Environmental Protection Agency, for whom Ms. Green worked as a special employee, has disavowed many of her claims about the alleged safety of PFAS.

“Dr. Green continually said that we weren’t understanding the science,” Ms. Lancaster said. 

Ms. Lancaster said she then began to search for experts who could explain the science to the board. 

“That was sort of the genesis of the draft regulation,” she said. 

In looking for scientists to attend Tuesday’s meeting, Ms. Lancaster said, she was unable to find anyone to defend PFAS. 

“If I had found somebody who said, ‘my scientific research is about PFAS being perfectly fine,’ I would have reached out to them,” she said. 

Among those who condemned the use of PFAS at the meeting were experts from across the country.

“This is a nationwide problem, this isn’t Martha’s Vineyard alone,” Notre Dame physics professor Graham Peaslee said. He added that PFAS can end up in drinking water, and children are often born with some parts per billion of the chemicals in their bodies.

“PFAS are persistent, they don’t break down,” Ms. Bennett said. “They’re called a forever chemical for a reason.”

Courtney Carignan, a Michigan State University professor studying exposure science, said PFAS pollution can lead to adverse health effects.

“PFAS has been found to affect multiple systems in the body,” she said. She said the fact the federal Environmental Protection Agency is studying the effects of PFAS is cause for enough concern to enact a ban.

Kristen Mello, a chemist from Westfield, cited data from water samples taken around a high school with a turf field by a creek in New Hampshire. There, higher levels of PFAS were found in water tested at the high school than at two other testing locations further away.

“You guys are a sandbar — your drinking water comes from the rain,” she said. “Every bit of PFAS you add is yours to keep.”

But Joe Sullivan, the high school’s project manager for the athletic fields overhaul, disputed the notion that data from New Hampshire was necessarily relevant.

“I want to make sure studies are being done apples to apples,” he said.

Ms. Lancaster noted that the New Hampshire study was done by Alpha Analytical, the same lab tapped by MVC consultant Tetra Tech for tests on the high school project.

As discussion waned, board of health member Tom Zinno wondered whether it was possible for a turf field to be built without PFAS.

“They used to do this, it just wasn’t as good turf,” Mr. Peaslee replied, adding that he is not an expert on turf field development.

Paul Lauenstein, a water management advisory committee member in Sharon, said his town adopted a three-year moratorium on turf fields in 2020. Since then, he said the town has found success with grass fields using diligent maintenance.

“This has really opened my eyes to how many plastics we have in our lives,” Mr. Zinno said of the discussion.

Board of health member James Butterick, a retired physician, said he’s begun to see the medical community accept the dangers of PFAS in a similar way to its acceptance of the effects of cigarettes.

“I kind of look at this in a parallel way,” he said.

He later added that installing the field now could lead to problems in coming years, if data such as that shown by Ms. Mello proves to be replicable.

“We could have a very serious problem two, three, four years out,” Mr. Butterick said.

Mr. Sullivan said if the board is concerned about overall PFAS contamination, the scope of the problem is wider than banning turf fields.

Mr. Zinno agreed.

“If we do a regulation like this, it may have to be broader because the problem is broader,” he said.

While the turf project has been approved by the MVC, it still needs a special permit from the Oak Bluffs planning board.

Ms. Houghton confirmed that school has not yet submitted its planning board application. “It’s prepared and ready to go,” she told the Gazette by phone Wednesday.

She said the delay had been to allow time to meet with the Oak Bluffs building inspector in light of a new regulation adopted by the board of health late in the summer regulating impervious surfaces. “We wanted to make sure we understood what the building inspector was looking for,” Ms. Houghton said. Phase one of the fields plan centers on building a new track.

At the meeting the board of health took no action on the draft regulation. Another discussion is slated for Jan. 11, and board members said they intend to have a public hearing before any decision is made.

“Are we in a rush? I don’t think so,” said board chairman William White.

Ms. Lancaster said school officials were welcome to bring experts to defend the environmental aspects of the turf field.

“If they can find them, they are more than welcome to come,” she said. “If there’s something we’re missing here, we want to hear about it.”