Are sweeping pesticide bans justified for youth sports fields?

July 19, 2012 -  By

By: Ron Hall

There’s growing public concern about the use of pesticides on youth sports fields. This concern focuses on the alleged negative health affects that pesticides pose to young athletes. As a result, Connecticut and New York have passed laws severely restricting the use of synthetic pesticides on school grounds. New Jersey will likely soon pass a similar law. An increasing number of cities and school districts across the United States are also on the no-pesticide bandwagon.

These actions raise two questions:

1. Will school personnel (or the contractors that schools hire) be able to provide safe playing fields for school-age children without using popular weedkillers and insecticides?

2. Do the benefits of going pesticide-free outweigh the risks of possible injuries resulting from weedy playing fields or fields with poor turf coverage?

Yes, it can be done

Answering the first question provides the answer to the second.

Yes, it’s possible to maintain safe, attractive and durable turfgrass sports fields without using synthetic pesticides. Two memorable presentations at Sports Turf Managers Association (STMA) annual conferences in recent years have documented just that.

Two years ago, Kevin Trotta shared his success in providing excellent pesticide-free sports fields in Rockland County New York. These fields annually host numerous sports and community events, and hold up quite well.

Trotta is an active STMA member but he’s also New York Team Captain of Global Sports Alliance, which promotes sustainable practices in the larger sports world. He takes an educational rather than confrontational approach when it comes to pesticides and sports field management.

Similarly, Chip Osborne, Jr. speaking at a STMA Conference about five years ago also described the efforts of Marblehead, MA, in providing safe and attractive pesticide-free ball fields Osborne, a part of that effort, now provides consulting and educational services through Osborne Organics.

So, it is possible to manage acceptable sports fields without pesticides — assuming, of course, personnel has the knowledge, experience and manpower to do it. That’s assuming a lot, of course.

Consider who manages the sports fields at your schools and in your communities. Yes, they’re probably dedicated and trained, at least to a certain level. Even so, few communities or schools can count on the expertise of a Trotta or an Osborne to oversee and guide their efforts. Trotta holds degrees in landscape horticulture and environmental studies. Osborne, who also has a strong horticultural background, has spent more than 15 years practicing sustainable turf craft.

Real-world challenges

But other large challenges are also a part of the sports field pesticide picture. Topping that list are field overuse and inadequate maintenance budgets.

Commonly available and appropriately used pesticides save time and labor. Time and labor equal expenses. Responsible turf pros view them as valuable tools rather than shortcuts or management crutches.

So, the answer to the question of whether the benefits of using pesticides in terms of costs, convenience and turf quality and coverage are worth the perceived health risks of using them doesn’t offer up a simple answer.

Most turf pros appreciate the convenience and effectiveness of pesticides. They feel there’s no solid evidence that the responsible use of pesticides poses a health hazard to young athletes. That said, my guess is that many of these same turf pros would  reduce their use of pesticides if they had the expertise, manpower and budgets to do so, and if the fields under their care weren’t severely over-scheduled and overused.

Their main responsibility, after all, is to provide safe playing conditions for young athleties given what they have to work with.

LM Staff

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