(Beyond Pesticides, May 5, 2008) A new study indicates that some pesticides applied to golf courses in the Precambrian Shield of central Ontario may have an impact on aquatic organisms in adjacent watersheds. The study is published in the April issue of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry.
Golf courses affect the environment by altering the habitat through the release of nutrients and pesticides. The Precambrian Shield region of central Ontario, Canada, a major recreational area, is especially susceptible to the impacts of golf courses as a result of the geology and hydrology of the region. The Shield area is characterized by many lakes, rivers, and streams. Golf courses in this area typically place turf on top of a sand base which allows chemicals used on the courses to migrate into surrounding bodies of water.
The study set out to determine (1) whether organic substances that are toxic to early life stages of fish are transported from golf courses in the Precambrian Shield and (2) whether toxic compounds occur in watersheds of golf courses at times that coincide with the application of pesticides to golf courses and other conditions conducive to surface runoff. To do so, two golf courses in the Muskoka region of central Ontario were monitored from May to November of 2002. Passive samplers, semipermeable membrane devices (SPMDs), were deployed within the golf course watersheds at monthly intervals. After the SPMDs were retrieved they were tested for toxicity using the fish species, Japanese medaka.
A range of herbicides, insecticides, and fungicides accumulated in the SPMDs, the researchers noted. Elevated toxicity occurred in the SPMDs that were deployed during periods of maximum fungicide application. Overall, no single compound or class of compounds in the SPMD extracts was wholly responsible for the observed toxicity to the early life stages of medaka.
The present study indicated that the compounds accumulated in the passive sampling devices were toxic to early life stages of the fish species. It cannot be stated definitively, however, that the contaminants discharged from the golf courses were a toxic hazard to other fish and aquatic organisms. Aquatic organisms’ sensitivity to toxins, stream flow, and other factors affect the degree of hazard.
Several beneficial management practices can be employed to decrease the potential that pesticides can leach from golf courses into the surrounding aquatic environment, restraint in the use of pesticides being the key to reducing the impacts. Golf courses often require intensive applications of chemicals for turf maintenance, both because high-quality turf conditions are expected by the users and because the turf must withstand low mowing and heavy traffic. The researchers suggested that educating golfers to lower their cosmetic standards may be the best management strategy.
This is not the first time that the use of pesticides on golf courses has raised concerns. For example, a 2004 study published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health gives a comprehensive review of the carcinogenicity and genotoxicity of pesticides commonly used on golf courses. The report found a link between use of certain pesticides on golf courses, such as 2,4-D, and cancer in humans and wildlife. In 2003, Florida officials found elevated arsenic levels in the soil and groundwater in South Florida golf courses from the herbicide monosodium methane arsenate (MSMA). Pesticide runoff from a golf course outside of Washington, DC killed fish, eels and crawfish of two streams that feed into the Potomac River in 2001. Just this month, Golf Digest published an article that discusses the environmental impact of golf and the general agreement that golfer expectations and management practices must move and are moving in an environmental direction.
For more information on golf course management, see Beyond Pesticides’ Golf program page. If you are a golfer or live near a golf course, check out the Environmental Principles for Golf Courses in the United States, a set of principles jointly developed by a group of leading golf and environmental organizations that seeks to produce environmental excellence in golf course planning and siting, design, construction, maintenance and facility operations, and encourage your local golf course to adopt these principles.