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From October 26, 2006                                                                                                        

EPA Comes in Above Par on Golf Course Herbicide
(Beyond Pesticides, October 26, 2006) A revised assessment of health risks has the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) preparing to deny reregistration of all products containing monosodium methane arsenate (MSMA) and other organic arsenical herbicides. The decision is especially relevant in Florida where MSMA has been linked to high arsenic levels beneath many golf courses.

Arsenic levels left in MSMA’s wake “raise a concern for cancer risk,” according to EPA. The agency is planning to revoke federal approval of the herbicides' uses, pending a comment period that ends next month. In addition to golf courses, MSMA is also currently used on athletic fields, parks, cotton crops and other outdoor areas.

MSMA has been linked to high arsenic levels beneath at least a dozen golf courses in Florida’s Collier County and surrounding areas. 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 recommended arsenic levels. A 2002 Florida Department of Environmental Protection survey of golf courses found that 96 percent reported using MSMA. Only ten percent of the respondents, though, had systems in place to clean up arsenic; one percent had staff trained to do the job, and another one percent had contracted companies to clean up the chemical in case of a spill.

Southwest Florida’s high water table and sandy soils make the area’s drinking water supply particularly vulnerable to contamination, experts say.

“We have many people who get their drinking water out of the shallow aquifer, and the sandy soils allow the contaminants to reach the groundwater faster than other soil types,” said Doug Jones, chief of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s bureau of waste cleanup.

Mr. Jones says he is pleased with EPA’s decision to deny further use of MSMA. In a four-page letter earlier this year, he had criticized the federal agency for understating the weed-killer’s cancer-causing capability.

“You look around golf courses where herbicides are being legally applied and you’re still seeing contamination higher than our (residential) cleanup rate,” Mr. Jones said.

By any measure, arsenic is bad for your health. Studies show exposure increases the risk for heart disease, diabetes as well as liver, lung and other types of cancer.

EPA’s evaluation of MSMA and other organic arsenical herbicides concludes:


The Agency’s risk assessment – bolstered by actual field monitoring data in both surface and ground water – estimates levels of arsenic in drinking water from pesticidal uses that raise a concern for cancer risk. Given that estimated drinking water exposure from the pesticidal uses alone exceeds EPA’s level of concern and that alternative herbicides are readily available, EPA concludes that the benefits do not outweigh the risks and that all uses for the active ingredients MSMA, DSMA, CAMA, and cacodylic acid are ineligible for reregistration.


However, MSMA has been a popular choice among cotton growers and turf managers since it appeared on shelves in the 1960s. Each year, farmers and turf managers spray three million pounds of MSMA or the similar DSMA nationwide, EPA estimates. Additionally, several golf course superintendents in Florida signed form letters this year, urging EPA to spare MSMA. Manufacturers are mounting a fight against the decision as well. There are 90 brand-name herbicides that contain MSMA, according to EPA estimates.

The extensive use of MSMA and other pesticides on golf courses raises serious questions about people's toxic exposure, drift over neighboring communities, water contamination, and effects on wildlife and sensitive ecosystems. However, environmental principles for golf courses are available and some golf courses are working to reduce pesticide use.

Source: Naples Daily News, Revised Reregistration Eligibility Decision

TAKE ACTION: It is important to make your voice heard as MSMA manufacturers are working to fight EPA’s decision. Tell EPA you support their decision to deny reregistration of all uses for organic arsenical herbicide, including MSMA, products and ask that they immediately suspend all products from the market in order to prevent further health risks. The deadline to submit comments is November 9, 2006.