(Beyond Pesticides, August 4, 2016) Complaints about a green residue that appeared on golfers’ shoes at Rye Golf Club in New York last spring prompted an investigative report by The Journal News/lohud.com, that revealed what reporters are describing a region-wide “environmental toxic time bomb” caused by the over and misuse of pesticides throughout the state. The investigation uncovered (i) gaps in the oversight of millions of pound of toxic pesticides applied throughout the Lower Hudson Valley, (ii) heightened health risks in Westchester and Rockland counties where pesticides are used the most, (iii) significant flaws in pesticide data collected in the state of New York, and (iv) the failure of authorities to catch the illegal sale and use of unregistered pesticides.
Rye Golf Club, which turned into a “field of dustbowls” within weeks of the green residue appearing on golfer’s shoes, had to close 18 putting greens, leading members to demand thousands of dollars in refunds and city leaders to address the severely damaged city-owned golf course. The cause of the mysterious green residue was later revealed to be the result of an application of a contaminated batch of the fungicide ArmorTech ALT 70, whose active ingredient is azoxystrobin. Rye Golf Club initially bought and used the pesticide, finding out after its purchase that the product was not registered for use in the state of New York.
According to the newspaper’s report, 2014 city records show that Rye Golf Club returned the unregistered Armor Tech ALT 70 and exchanged it for one that was registered. However, Marcus Serrano, city manager of Rye, told reporters that the questionable pesticide sale was filed with the state Department of Environmental Conservation in 2014, but regulators did not investigate the questionable sale.
“If we’re spraying something that is not registered, I would assume the DEC [Department of Environmental Conservation] would tell us that you’re spraying products that are not registered in the state of New York, and that didn’t happen,” Mr. Serrano told The Journal News/lohud.com.
In trying to unravel the incident at Rye Golf Club, investigators eventually blamed the dead grass on a contaminated batch of pesticide, and its manufacturer, Tessenderlo Kerley, paid $2.5 million to settle Rye’s complaints about the marred golfing season. Despite the win on the surface for the City of Rye, the settlement did nothing to address hazards tied to pesticides used in heavily populated and golf-dense communities, such as Westchester and Rockland. In its investigation, the Journal News/lohud.com revealed that of 62 New York counties, Westchester ranked third-highest in pesticide use, at 2.26 million pounds in 2010. Rockland was sixth-highest, at about one million. They are also among the highest pesticide users in terms of gallons of product, the data show. All of the highest-use counties were golf-course dense, with Suffolk on Long Island topping the list at 5 million pounds. Monroe County, which includes the city of Rochester, ranked second at 2.82 million. The top six counties used nearly 14 million pounds of pesticides, more than half the 24.5 million total statewide in 2010. All of these speaks to the broader issue of pesticide use on golf courses, which, in New York, was at one point found to be 18 pounds per treated acre, about seven times higher than the 2.7 pound average in agricultural.
When asked to comment on the issue, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) refused to discuss the matter, and noted it is trying to correct pesticide data errors while taking steps to improve reporting, such as shifting from paper to electronic reporting. “The NYSDEC works with the pesticide businesses to fix as many of these errors as is feasible,” agency spokesman Kevin Frazier told the reporters.
Regardless of efforts to improve oversight, the article points out that tons of toxic pesticides are handled daily by hundreds of golf-course and farm workers, pest-control companies and others trusted to protect the public from harmful chemical exposures. In fact, this is not a new issue in New York. In 1995, the New York State Attorney General’s office published a report entitled Toxic Fairways, which studied pesticide use on 52 Long Island, New York golf courses. The report, which was particularly concerned with the potential for groundwater contamination, concluded that these golf courses applied about 50,000 pounds of pesticides in one year, or four to seven times the average amount of pesticides used in agriculture, on a pound per acre basis. The report recommended reducing golf course pesticide hazards by limiting or ending the use of known carcinogens, minimizing the use of other pesticides, and fully informing golf course users and the public about pesticides dangers and the times of application.
Beyond Pesticides’ executive director Jay Feldman was interviewed by The Journal News/lohud.com and noted that these pesticides are inherently dangerous, pointing to the risk of pesticides leaching into the ground and contaminating drinking water, even if properly used, noting that pesticides are inadequately regulated to provide us with the protection that we need. “The illegal uses of pesticides that are going on that are not caught because of inadequate oversight are adding fuel to a burning fire that is raging across this country on golf courses, and in agriculture and homes and community parks,” he said.
Amid efforts to improve pesticide oversight, the investigative report points out that chemical companies face a growing list of lawsuits seeking to link them to serious illnesses, such as cancer. One high-profile lawsuit was filed by Rich Walsh, whose father, Thomas, died of leukemia in 2009 at 56 years old. Tom worked on a Pennsylvania golf course for more than 30 years, and genetic testing from his oncologist revealed chromosomal alterations as a result of years of working with pesticides. Part of the log books he kept throughout his career included the pesticides he applied, which included the insecticides Dylox and Dursban, active ingredients trichlorfon and chlorpyrifos respectively, and the fungicides Daconil and Chipco, active ingredients chlorothalonil and iprodione. All of these chemicals have been shown to be likely carcinogens, according to Beyond Pesticides’ Pesticide Gateway or Pesticide Induced Diseases Database. Chlorpyrifos, for instance, was banned for homeowner use back in 2001, but uses on agriculture and golf courses were allowed to continue despite objections from health and environmental advocates.
Whether this incident at Rye Golf Club is a turning point for the state’s pesticide oversight remains to be seen, but the information uncovered by The Journal News/lohud.com investigation offers insight to state and federal regulators as to where to start. By focusing on issues like poor record keeping and lax enforcement, New York now has a starting point in their quest to stop another incident like which happened at Rye Golf Club from taking place.
In light of these concerning statistics and rising awareness of the hazards associated with pesticide use in golf, many courses across the country are transitioning to organic practices. The Journal News/lohud.com also wrote a separate piece on a new public golf course in the Catskills, which is also New York’s first organic golf course: the Belleayre resort. Additionally, Rich Walsh now owns one of the courses employing safer, organic methods of turf maintenance in his Rolling Fields golf course located in Murrysville, PA.
For more information on the hazards associated with pesticide use on golf courses and the trend towards organic practices, see Beyond Pesticides’ Golf and the Environment program page. There you can read about another poisoned golf course worker, Steve Herzog, who spoke out in summer 2011 issue of Pesticides and You on long-term contamination at the golf course where he worked as a groundskeeper. You can also read the interview with Beyond Pesticides’ executive director Jay Feldman in Golf Digest, titled “How Green is Golf?”
All unattributed positions are that of Beyond Pesticides
Photo Source: The Journal News