Daily News Archive
Causes Problems on Golf Courses
(Beyond Pesticides, September 4, 2003) State officials in
Florida are struggling to rectify the discovery of elevated arsenic levels
in the soil and groundwater in South Florida golf courses, according to
Daily News. Some officials at the state Department of Environmental
Protection (DEP) believe the pesticide monosodium methane arsenate (MSMA),
commonly applied on golf courses to kill weeds, is the underlying cause
of the excessive arsenic levels, and are calling for restrictions on the
chemical's use. Others, including golf course lobbyists, agriculture officials
and the pesticide industry, claim further research on MSMA's toxicity
is needed before such restrictions are put in place.
The contamination was discovered several years ago and was reported in
a Miami-Dade Department of Environmental Resources Management study, which
found 37 percent of wells tested at municipal golf courses exceeded the
recommended arsenic level of 50 parts per billion. 76 percent of the wells
exceeded the federal Environmental Protection Agency standard of 10 parts
per billion, set to go into effect in 2006. The arsenical herbicide MSMA
is widely used on area golf courses, including where arsenic was detected.
A 2002 DEP survey of Florida golf courses found that 96 percent reported
using MSMA. Only 10 percent of the respondents, though, had systems in
place to clean up arsenic; 1 percent had staff trained to do the job,
and another 1 percent had contracted companies to clean up the chemical
in case of a spill.
Golf course superintendents and an industry task force formed by MSMA
manufacturers APC Holdings, KMG-Bernuth Inc. and Luxembourg-Pamol Inc.
responded with their own statistics and scientific reports showing that
arsenical herbicides bind with organic material in soil, which minimizes
leaching. Joel Jackson, spokesman for the Florida Golf Course Superintendents
Association, claimed that levels of arsenic detected are too low to be
dangerous, stating, "Dose makes the poison."
In his estimation of the risk posed by exposure to arsenic, Jackson neglected
to account for total body burden that humans bear. Most human beings contain
within their body a number of chemicals from environmental contamination.
As this load increases, so does the potential for chemical sensitivities
and other health problems. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
(CDC) recently released the second National
Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals, which detected
a total of 89 chemicals in the volunteers tested, including herbicides.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG), in partnership with Mt. Sinai School
of Community Medicine and Commonweal, released a similar study, Body
Burden: The Pollution In People, in which subjects contained an
average of 91 compounds, most of which did not exist 75 years ago.
MSMA, which in addition to golf courses is also registered in Florida
for use at cemeteries, school playgrounds, parks and residential homes,
is linked to adverse effects in neurotoxicity and is a sensitizer and
There are alternatives to this toxic herbicide, even for golf courses,
which are among the most extensive users of pesticides. In fact, use of
this and other herbicides can actually be detrimental not only to human
health but to the greens themselves. Heavy pesticide use often results
in dependency on increasingly larger amounts of pesticides as pests develop
resistance to the chemicals, and beneficial insects and plants are inadvertently
destroyed. Such chemical excess raises concern about the health and safety
of those on the golf course, drift over neighboring communities, water
contamination, and effects on wildlife and sensitive ecosystems. Dr. Samuel
Epstein, an expert in environmental toxicology at the University of Illinois
Medical Center, states, "Golfers are greatly exposed to pesticides.
Direct contact encourages absorption of toxic materials through the skin
and sometimes ingestion. Recently sprayed pesticides do volatize on hot
days, leading to additional risk of inhalation." Some acute symptoms
golfers and workers on the course may exhibit due to pesticide exposure
include memory loss, fatigue, headaches, nausea and dizziness. Long-term
concerns include birth defects, neurological disorders and certain types
of cancer. A study commissioned by the Golf Course Superintendents Association
of America (GCSAA) found that golf course superintendents have a higher
than average rate of mortality due to cancer, including lung, brain and
non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Although the study did not establish a cause and
effect relationship between pesticides and cancer, it did raise concerns.
Dr. Burton Kross, who presented the study, stated, "In light of this
study and other health-effect research about pesticides, a prudent strategy
for golf course superintendents and their workers is to minimize their
exposure to pesticides."
In creating a safer golf course, public education is critical. People
walking the course have a right to know the potential dangers. When pesticide
spraying takes place, signs should be posted notifying golfers and workers.
Danger can be avoided even more so by practicing techniques that dodge
the need for pesticides altogether, such as choosing a durable type of
grass that will out-compete weeds and incorporating native plant species
as part of the turf. The Firethorne Golf Club in Lincoln, NE, for example,
uses prairie style roughs. An irrigation system, proper grass height and
soil aeration, as well as continual testing of pH and nutrient levels
also keeps pest problems in check.
For more information regarding golf and pesticides, see Beyond Pesticides'