Editor’s note: This article is part of an on-going series focused on Integrated Pest Management (IPM) programs. It‘s aimed at minimizing, not eliminating, the use of pesticides on sports fields. The author is Director of Leisure Services in Peachtree City, Ga., and is taking us play-by-play through his efforts to formulate an effective IPM program for sports fields.
Shortly after an Integrated Pest Management series was launched in the July issue of Parks & Rec Business, a reader contacted me to ask two pointed and, I thought, salient questions: 1.) What is the “chemical soup” effect of pesticides on human and biological life?, and 2.) What does it mean to be organic?
To help respond, or at least think through these questions, I asked Clint Waltz, Ph.D., University of Georgia Extension Turfgrass Specialist, to comment.
The Chemical Soup Effect
Our intrepid reader, who works as a parks landscape architect in Florida, first expressed thanks that the IPM issue is being brought to the surface in the media and noted that safe landscape management, along with organic agriculture, have been an interest and passion of his for years.
Then, he asked why “nobody spoke about the potential hazards of the ‘chemical soup’ effect of pesticides on human and biological life.”
He wrote that, in his research, he finds that each chemical, whether synthetic or organic, has been tested and approved by the EPA as a single chemical, not as part of a mix of chemicals used on sports fields. In other words, when all the chemicals are put together, they may have more of an effect on one’s health than any single chemical by itself.
Waltz agrees that the reader could have a point. He believes that there may be some interactions not commonly investigated for synthetic pesticides.
“Many pesticide opponents point out that we do not know the long-term effects of synthetic pesticides and their metabolites (substances necessary for a metabolic action), and we don’t know the potential effects of pesticide mixtures,” said Waltz. But he is quick to point out that the same can be applied to naturally occurring pesticides as well.
More directly, he points out that one chemical can actually counteract another and possibly make safe the chemical or its metabolites. So, the question is what chemicals individually and cooperatively are safe or unsafe.
If that were able to be determined, there is still another factor to consider. As Waltz says, “[Your reader] does not give credit to the incredible job of soil microorganisms that are very efficient at degrading many chemicals and rendering them benign.”
As usual, there is no clear-cut answer to the chemical soup question. If there’s any comfort to be taken from asking the question, it’s the understanding that the EPA does require an array of environmental fate studies before a pesticide can be legally registered. The testing is more extensive than meets the eye. Hopefully, the EPA is getting it right.
The reader’s second question is perhaps more interesting. What does it really mean when something is labeled as organic?
According to him, the USDA, through the National Organic Program, now owns the word “organic.” He said he still sees horticultural products labeled organic when they do not meet the USDA standards, and he’s not sure if the agriculture-focused organic standards of the USDA only apply to agriculture or also to landscape management.
Waltz said that the Organic Food Production Act (OFPA) provides coverage and standards for crops, livestock and derivative products. The USDA has no organic standards for health-care products, cosmetics, fertilizers or turf grass and ornamentals.
“Without applicable standards for organic management or official certification of the term “organic,” the concept is open to interpretation,” said Waltz. “One ‘organic’ lawn care company may apply its standards, which may be different from those of another company offering an ‘organic’ program, with no regulatory body to say which is or isn’t correct.”
Waltz further states that IPM and “organic” can be totally different philosophies, where IPM allows use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, while “organic” may be perceived as much more rigid, calling for a total ban on synthetics.
“I know this may sound like semantics, but perception becomes reality,” or more accurately, perception doesn’t always lead to the correct reality, he says. For example, if parents are told a sports field is under “organic”/IPM maintenance, their perception may be that no pesticides whatsoever are being used. When the parents find this out, they feel betrayed because their perception did not match the definition. That in turn can lead to a public outcry.
In reality, pesticides may be used in an appropriate manner, as needed.
Waltz adds, “All this is to say that the public is poorly informed as to the meaning and intention of our language, much less the philosophical concepts. Then you get the groups that truly do not want to know the difference but want to live in a world of perception and misinformation.”
The Florida reader concludes his comments by observing that most of the IPM and organic research and application appear to be in northern states in the U.S. He notes that the different climate and ecology in Florida may call for different IPM programs, which is probably true. He asks if anyone knows of any active and successful IPM programs in Florida. Does anybody have any information or suggestions?
Randy Gaddo is Director of Parks, Recreation and Library Services in Peachtree City, Ga., and a frequent contributor to Parks & Rec Business. Watch for his IPM Updates in future issues. He can be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org