The Oak Bluffs board of health held off on making a decision about a moratorium that could stall plans for a new artificial turf field at the regional high school.

The board called a meeting Tuesday to discuss a potential three-year pause on the installation of some artificial sports playing surfaces, and just shy of 50 people were in attendance to debate “forever chemicals” and the pros and cons of turf fields.

But at the onset of the 75-minute meeting, board chair William White made it clear that no action was going to be made.

“We’re not going to take a vote today,” he said in his opening remarks. 

The board has been weighing the moratorium going back to 2021, after the regional high school proposed overhauling its athletic facilities, including the controversial field and a new track. The moratorium is being considered out of concern for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, a group of chemicals commonly referred to as PFAS, and their potential to seep into the Island’s sole-source aquifer.

On Monday evening, the Edgartown board of health voted unanimously in favor of the possible moratorium by the Oak Bluffs board of health.

If approved, the current draft of the moratorium would stop the installation of any turf field in Oak Bluffs for up to three years. It could be rescinded earlier if safe alternatives were found.

Much of Tuesday’s meeting revolved around PFAS — the man-made chemicals that can be found in everything from plastics to upholstered furniture, waterproof fabrics to shampoos. Continuing research indicates they can lead to an increased risk of thyroid diseases, decreased fertility in women and increased cholesterol levels. 

Past studies on the high school’s plans showed low levels of the chemicals, similar to what is found currently in the ground and at concentrations below risk standards. The board of health was concerned about adding a turf field with PFAS and wished to see a PFAS-free alternative. 

“The worry of the board would be adding to that further by adding this field,” said Garrett Albiston, the Oak Bluffs health agent.

Chris Huntress, the athletic field designer the high school had previously engaged for the project, said the field’s PFAS levels were so low and installing the field would actually take PFAS out by removing the topsoil. 

“When a synthetic turf field goes in place, that existing topsoil and organic layer would be removed, the PFAS within that topsoil and organic layer would also be removed,” said Mr. Huntress.

More than a dozen members of the community spoke, some in favor of a moratorium and others in favor of letting the artificial turf field project proceed so the students could have a better athletic facility. 

Several high school committee members questioned how the moratorium would work. Moratoriums are usually implemented to handle emerging threats, allowing officials time to consider new potential regulations. 

Kris O’Brien, the school committee member from Oak Bluffs, said that the field’s effects had been extensively scrutinized when it went through the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, including studies by independent consultants. 

“You say that you want a study to understand the impacts that this field could have on the ground water, yet that was done by the MVC, by Tetra Tech, in February 2021, and again by Horsley Witten,” she said. “You have the data, so I’m confused what it is you’re searching for.” 

Tuesday’s debate comes after the school emerged victorious in the legal battle over whether the Oak Bluffs planning board had the power to deny the project on the basis of water quality concerns. A state Land Court judge last week ruled in the school’s favor, saying it didn’t need the planning board’s approval. 

The board of health did not give a timeline on the moratorium, but promised it would put the health of residents first. 

“That’s the mandate,” Mr. White said. “And we’re going to stick to that.”