Integrated Pest Management Update

After articles about IPM began to appear in Parks & Rec Business, Clint Waltz, Ph.D., the educational program organizer of the Georgia Turfgrass Association (GTA), contacted me about participating in a couple of sessions. Clint is the Extension Turfgrass Specialist at the University of Georgia. He had attended the Pesticide Workshop in Peachtree City in November 2005, and I had consulted him on a few occasions since then.

His angle on IPM interested me; he suggested that I talk about IPM in relation to risk management. It was an aspect of IPM that I hadn’t really considered in those specific terms.

So, on December 5th and 6th I traveled to the Gwinnett County (Ga.) Civic and Cultural Center to talk with attendees at the annual Turfgrass Institute and Trade Show. The audience represented a wide spectrum of people associated with pesticide use, from parks and recreation sports field caretakers to commercial landscapers and fertilizer/pesticide company staffs.

Communicating Risk Management

The first 30-minute session on December 5th was titled “Communicating Risk Management,” part of a multi-subject sports and parks session. The session also included segments on “Constructing New Fields,” “Managing Wear and Recovery,” and “Common Insect Problems in Turfgrass.”

Clint’s guidance to me was to present a case study of the situation we experienced in Peachtree City that led to our interest in IPM, and to take questions. “I think your approach was innovative, unbiased, cooperative and effective,” he wrote in a e-mail.

With that encouragement I prepared a 20-minute Power Point presentation. I outlined the incident we had in Peachtree City two years ago when a young girl’s parents thought her allergic reaction that sent her to the hospital was caused by pesticides we used on our soccer fields. There was never evidence for or against their belief, but the ensuing public discussions did lead to our IPM drive.

The main idea of the exercise was to point out that IPM, by its very nature, is risk management. An effective IPM program establishes thresholds that set limits on the level that risk stakeholders are willing to accept before applying pesticides. (IPM programs do not advertise total elimination of pesticide use, only to understand and control its use.) For example, city officials might establish that they are willing to accept 15 percent weed coverage on sports fields before applying pesticides, and then only enough to bring weeds under control.

To be honest, I had not looked at IPM as risk management until Clint’s request made me sit down and really study it. But I found that I could support a position that IPM is risk management in its purest form. It is a deliberate attempt to define the level of risk that stakeholders (city or county officials, parks and recreation practitioners, sports field users, parents, etc.) can agree upon, then monitor that risk to keep it under control.

I left ten minutes for questions in the session, and there were some very good ones, so I think the point came across. Whether or not someone thinks IPM is a good practice, it’s hard to argue against its risk management components. Whether or not to employ IPM is a decision that stakeholders have to make.

IPM Risk Management Panel

The session on Dec. 6th was more involved. Clint asked me to set up a workshop panel the same as I did in November 2005, using some of the same panelists. It was still under the “risk management” heading, but with a slightly different twist. This session was titled “Sports Field Management and Hazard Communication.”

Clint wanted me to re-enact the workshop because it was an effective forum in which to publicly open up a potentially contentious topic and one that allowed everyone to express views. The emphasis here was on educating each other on the different aspects of the subject and not to try to defend a point of view to death.

My original 2005 panel consisted of eight highly qualified professionals. Clint wanted some of them back but only three or four, so I invited the following panelists, who all accepted the invitation:

Dr. Robert Geller, Associate Professor, Emory University School of Medicine, Department of Pediatrics and Director, Southeast Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit. A pediatrician and medical toxicologist, he specializes in minimizing the consequences to children of exposure to various environmental compounds and responding to any effects that do occur.

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