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Did Ontario Golf Courses reduce pesticide use with Integrated Pest Management?

In 2008, golf courses were exempted from pesticide restrictions under Ontario’s Cosmetic Pesticide Ban Act, in return for implementation of Integrated Pest Management (IPM). To minimize use of pesticides, golf course employee training and IPM certification, registration of golf courses and annual reporting of pesticide use are required under Regulation 63/09 of Ontario’s Pesticide Act.

Fast forward 10 years: Prevent Cancer Now asked the Ontario Government and the IPM Council of Canada whether or not pesticide use had decreased on Ontario golf courses. Neither could answer.

As a result Prevent Cancer Now examined reports from 16 higher-end Ontario golf courses to determine whether use of pesticides had declined. Pesticide data archived on the IPM Council of Canada website was examined from 2010 to 2017. (For in-depth information and images access the Summary or Full Report.)

Total pesticide use (equivalent hectares) by all of 16 Ontario golf courses, from 2010 to 2017
Key findings of the study include:
  • overall, use of herbicides, fungicides and insecticides increased between 2010 and 2017 (see bar chart above);
  • three fungicides, three herbicides and all insecticides used on the studied Ontario golf courses have been identified as “highly hazardous” by international authorities (e.g., World Health Organization, European Union and US EPA);
  • a small number of courses fared better than others, applying one fifth the amount of pesticides (measured as equivalent hectares treated) compared with high users (see line graph below);
  • golf courses that were certified under the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf exhibited lower herbicide use when variation of use was higher, which is a possible indication that IPM was used.
Pesticide use by each of the 16 Ontario golf courses — 2010 to 2017

Courses A, B, C, E, H, K and O are certified under the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf. Courses D, F, G, I, J, L, M, N and P (9) were not certified. The data includes outliers that were re-checked against the online IPM reports.

Prevent Cancer Now is very concerned. Many of the pesticides used on Ontario golf courses are convincingly associated with cancer plus a host of other problems including neurodevelopmental and birth defects, respiratory issues such as asthma, immune dysfunction, cardiovascular and neurological diseases, and disruption of hormone actions.

In addition, Prevent Cancer Now’s study highlighted that:
  • not all golf courses filed reports as required under Regulation 63/09;
  • less than 1/3 of the courses in Ontario had uploaded complete data from 2010 to 2019;
  • two fungicides banned in 2003 and 2009, respectively, were still in use as of 2010; and
  • the archived data on the IPM Council website was not in a form that could be easily tracked, analyzed or combined with other data such as weather, for research. It would also be easier for IPM agents to input data using an online form.

Collecting data and letting it sit is not a solution to healthier landscaping. The IPM Council of Canada missed and continues to miss opportunities to utilize its data, combine the data with other parameters (e.g. weather), share success stories and spread the learning.

Prevent Cancer Now has offered thoughtful recommendations to the IPM Council of Canada, course owners and superintendents; the Ontario Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks; industry and academia; and citizens.

For the safety of staff, golfers, adjacent residential communities and environmental sustainability it is time for the golf industry to live up to promises made in 2008. Ontario golfers and neighbours of golf clubs should press for nothing less.

RELATED: Cancer rates are higher, closer to golf courses and other sources of carcinogens, in Newfoundland.

Newfoundland scientists examined cancer incidence in relation to exposures to ultraviolet light, arsenic, disinfection by-products, and chemicals used in agriculture and turf care. Significant relative risks of developing cancer in high risk areas compared with low risk areas were 1.5 fold, 1.25 fold, 1.8 fold and 1.5 fold, respectively for the four types of exposures.

Act Now

  • Ask your golf course superintendents what they are doing to reduce pesticides on your golf course and how your golf course compares with other courses.
  • Wherever you live, educate yourself, the public and politicians. Seek regulation that permits only least-toxic pesticides on lawns, gardens and landscapes in your municipality and province.
Prevention Tips
  • Play on organic courses if you are fortunate enough to live near one, or on courses demonstrating efforts to reduce pesticide inputs.
  • Be informed. If you live in Ontario find out what pesticides your course is using on the IPM Council of Canada website.
  • Don’t golf when pesticides have recently been applied.
  • Avoid direct contact with greens and tee blocks.
  • Contrary to folklore, licking the ball could be BAD luck!
Of Interest…
Nature of Things Season 56, Episode 15, aired March 2, 2017.

Dad and the Dandelions, a film by Andrew Niskar, tries to unlock the mystery behind his father’s cancer. Andrew asks the question, “Could there be a connection between his father’s cancer and highly manicured golf course turf?”

Ground War, Released 2018.

Ground War, when play fields become battlefields

Andrew Niskar explores, in greater depth, the world of golf, lobbying by the chemical industry and citizen activism. “The rampant use of pesticides around the world may be far more damaging than he thought.”