Grass Sports Fields and Pesticides
Last week, a concerned mother pulled her daughter from a Little League game in Middletown when she saw the little yellow signs warning of a toxic pesticide spraying from earlier that day. The sign's warning clearly said to stay off the field for 24 hours. Extensive research has shown that many lawn care chemicals spread or sprayed on our sports fields and lawns are hazardous to people. But our children and pets are the most vulnerable.
This incident has sparked a lot of questions:
Q: Sports are important for our kids. How can we have decent playing fields if we don't put pesticides and chemicals on them?
A: Most of us agree that playing sports is an important part of children's lives, but having good grass fields and keeping our kids save from toxic pesticides are not mutually exclusive.
Q. What are some of the health issues associated with different lawn chemicals?
A. Of 30 commonly used lawn pesticides, 19 have studies linking them with cancer, 13 are linked with birth defects, 21 with reproductive effects, 15 with neurotoxicity or abnormal brain development.
Q: I've been told that Middletown was doing some of their fields organically but there were complaints that they were in bad condition so they went back to using synthetic chemicals and pesticides on them.
A: "Organic" or "nontoxic" fields does NOT mean merely cutting the grass and spreading some organic fertilizer on it. A true organic/nontoxic program requires a maintenance staff be properly trained by someone who has been educated to do fields in this manner. It takes time, a change in mindset and a change in overall practices. If a public works or parks department isn't going put in the effort to do the fields properly, the program is sure to fail.
Q: Do any other towns do this successfully?
A: Yes! Branford and Cheshire are a couple nearby towns that have been doing this for many years. They have had consultants come in who understand and have experience transitioning fields from traditional methods and have thoroughly retrained their staff. They are very proud to have playing fields that sustain their busy sports programs and are not exposing their kids to toxic lawn pesticides. Springfield MA just finished a large pilot project on a number of their public grass areas and are working to expand it and transition all their parks and sports fields from traditional maintenance to nontoxic practices.
Q. Can Middletown change over their field maintenance to nontoxic practices?
A: Absolutely! We can have healthy nontoxic sports fields AND healthy kids. We are responsible for the wellbeing of all our children and we should be taking steps to protect them. It's the right thing to do!
Rebecca MacLachlan-Middletown resident
Jerry Silbert, M.D., Director of Watership Partnership