In 2021, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned the use of the herbicide paraquat on golf courses because of health concerns. But paraquat, an herbicide that has been linked to Parkinson’s disease, is only one of many pesticides used to maintain the pristine verdure of golf courses.
For example, the herbicide 2,4-D continues to be used widely on golf courses, playgrounds, and parks despite being designated a possible human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, an intergovernmental agency that is part of the World Health Organization. The EPA says there isn’t enough evidence to label 2,4-D as carcinogenic. This herbicide was one of the active ingredients in Agent Orange, which was used by the U.S. military during the Vietnam War and was later found to cause cancer.
Use of Pesticides on Golf Courses Affects the Players and Groundskeepers
Harold Nisker, spent 50 years playing golf. After his father died in 2014 from a rare type of lymphoma, Andrew Nisker learned about the use of the herbicide 2,4-D on the golf course where his father played the most.
“My father was a health nut,” Nisker told The Guardian. “He probably never knew the golf course he loved was sprayed with a chemical used in Agent Orange.”
Referring to the widespread use of pesticides, Nisker said: “It’s like Botox for your lawn. They should embrace the natural habitat instead of bringing in vegetation that’s not local and requires more chemicals and water to keep it alive.”
Two recent lawsuits that have been filed involve the workers who apply these dangerous pesticides.
Gary Lindeblad, who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 1999, said in his lawsuit filed in September 2020 that he “sprayed Roundup on a regular basis” for decades on golf courses and alleged that this caused his cancer.
The family of a golf course groundskeeper who died of leukemia have filed a lawsuit scheduled to go to trial in October 2023, alleging that his disease was caused by exposure to the chemicals applied at the course. This trial in Pennsylvania will involve major international companies in pesticide production.
Efforts to Limit Pesticide Use on Golf Courses
In 1991, the New York attorney general investigated groundwater contamination from pesticide use on golf courses. The resulting report said that more than 50,000 pounds of pesticides were being used on golf courses, four to seven times what was used in agriculture on a pound-per-acre basis.
In 2021, New York City banned the use of synthetic pesticides on city property, but this did not include golf courses.
In June 2022, a bill was passed in Connecticut to prohibit the use of the insecticide chlorpyrifos on golf courses.
Nationally, Senator Cory Booker is pushing a bill to ban two classes of insecticides used on golf courses, organophosphates, and neonicotinoids, which have been linked to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and neurodevelopmental damage in children.
Opponents of Limits on Pesticide Use
There are opponents to these efforts to limit pesticides on golf courses, including agricultural groups and golf associations.
President and CEO Chris Novak of CropLife America, a trade association representing manufacturers and distributors of pesticides, told The Guardian: “Legislation seeking to ban individual chemistries and politicize the regulatory process undermines both the work of the EPA’s career scientists and a longstanding law that serves our nation well.”
The bill to ban insecticides that Senator Booker is proposing risks “creating a confusing patchwork of pesticide regulation and undermining the scientific expertise that determines safety standards for products,” according to the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, an organization for professionals who manage and maintain golf courses.
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