Athletic fields

Parks & Rec supports the use of pesticides on sports fields


Saying it’s healthier for athletes, park officials voted last week for a recommendation to continue using pesticides on New Canaan athletic fields where it’s legal to do so.

Referring to a report by a consultant who compared the surface hardness of a field of grass treated with pesticides (Conner Field next to Farm Road) versus a field without pesticides (Saxe Middle School’s), members of the Parks and Recreation Commission voted 7-1 during their regular meeting on Dec. 9 to recommend to the board that New Canaan continue to apply chemicals in midsummer on Conner Fields, Mead Park and Waveny.

In making the recommendation, the Commission referred to a memo from Parks Superintendent John Howe, New Canaan High School Sports Director Jay Egan and Recreation Director Steve Benko saying that fields that do not use no pesticides are harder and therefore more likely to cause concussions. The trio, identified as the “New Canaan Fields Committee,” cited a “baseline performance quality standards assessment” of $ 3,000 from the Conner and Saxony fields of Tom Irwin Advisors of Burlington, Mass.

“Based on the information provided in the [Tom Irwin Advisors] report, the data shows that the use of pesticides on Conner Field has had a positive effect on the quality and safety of this field for athletic competitions, ”the memo reads. “The other facilities in the park that receive a once-a-year pesticide application are located at Waveny Park and Mead Park. Although these pitches were not included in the study by Tom Irwin Associates, we believe that the quality and playability of these natural turf pitches are far superior to those of Saxony. [Middle School]. “

Committee members voting in favor of the recommendation included Chair Rona Siegel, Carl Mason, Gene Goodman, Jack Hawkins, Steve Haberstroh, Laura Costigan and Hank Green. Commissioner Francesca Segalas voted against the recommendation. Matt Konspore and Jake Granito were absent.

State law prohibits the use of pesticides on school grounds until grade 8. In New Canaan, high school grounds are also free of pesticides.

The Commission’s recommendation followed a request by Selectman Kathleen Corbet for New Canaan to disclose and review the use of pesticides in fields annually. She asked why New Canaan continued to use chemicals on certain fields used by local children, and said the city should determine how much it would cost to keep fields consistently pesticide-free by overseeding.

“Once a more in-depth study and review of pesticide use has been initiated, consider public hearings, inquiries or other means of gathering community feedback,” Corbet said in a draft. September note. “Over the past 12 years, new health studies, legislation, alternative products and applications have been developed and it is appropriate for the [t]own bodies and our community to be well informed about the risks, benefits and limitations of pesticides and organic alternatives.

Yet the Commission rejected Corbet’s recommendation for a budget analysis. Hawkins, who helped draft the recommendation adopted by the whole Commission, said: “Due to our conclusion, we really did not think there was a need to go any further in considering the budget for the time being, the budgetary impact of changing the domain from a pesticide use field to a pesticide free field.

“Because what is, in my opinion, the most important is the safety of the users on these grounds”, he declared during the meeting, held by videoconference. “And the research we’ve received, the research we’ve seen, indicates that the greatest safety risk comes from sports injuries from hard terrain rather than from the use of pesticides.”

It was not clear whether the consultant, the Commission or the “Field Committee” limited their reviews to field conditions or whether they also included the health impacts of pesticide use.

The memo Hawkins helped write only said, “There was no document provided to us that identifies any health issues that are harmful to the current state of the Parks Department.” [integrated pest management] approach to their sports grounds.

According to at the United States Environmental Protection Agency, pesticides can pose risks to people, such as problems with the nervous, hormonal, or endocrine systems, and some pesticides can be carcinogenic, although in general “People are only likely to be exposed to very small amounts of pesticides. , too small to pose a risk.

Hawkins said the commission’s recommendation was based on reports from the Fields Committee and Howe. Although recreation officials completed a public documents request for the “Fields Committee” note, they said they did not have Howe’s report. Howe did not immediately respond to NewCaanaanite.comrequests it. As recommended by the Commission, “John Howe said taking a pesticide-free approach seemed to be ‘based on emotion, not science’. “

Howe told the meeting that he takes an “eco-friendly approach” to turf management “where we look at all environmental factors and use every tool we can, from managing our water to auditing. insect life cycles, so you’re not just applying chemicals for the sake of applying chemicals.

“You apply them just to attack the target organism as a last resort,” he said. “You do everything that is positive: fertilizing, irrigating, aerating, overseeding, even mowing properly with sharp blades and keeping the cutting height adjusted according to the time of year. “

The commissioners asked Howe if there were any environmental or groundwater issues (no water issues as the chemicals dry on the sheet and are not absorbed, nor are they applied just to side of the ponds), what are the Howe credentials (provided) and how New Canaan ensures the quality of the pesticide contractors (they receive instructions during application and are accompanied by a parks officer).

Segalas asked about the use of pesticides by surrounding towns.

Howe said: “Other towns that do not use pesticides on any of their fields – in my opinion their condition shows that they are not maintaining them properly. “

In its recommendation, the Commission accepted Corbet’s suggestion that New Canaan should disclose its use of pesticides on certain athletic fields on the city’s website.

At its suggestion that New Canaan establish an expert group to regularly review the application of chemicals here and seek public opinion on their use, the Commission concludes in its recommendation “that this committee already exists in the form of the Committee. from the fields of New Canaan ”- a reference to Howe, Benko and Egan.

It is not known if, when or how often the committee meets – the city’s website does not have a list for a “field committee” and there is no record of agendas or trials. -verbals passed to the municipal clerk’s office. Howe, Egan and Benko served as systematically, the non-voting members of the group called the Fields Building Committee who helped oversee the creation of the new turf and track facilities at NCHS. It met more than a dozen times between 2017 and 2019, according to city archives. (The Board of Selectmen is due to dissolve this committee on Tuesday.)

The Commission’s recommendation also includes an external review of the city’s use of pesticides, albeit nuanced.

“We recommend that the board of directors or a municipal body help identify an individual or a party to contribute to this contribution, and more specifically, we believe that the contribution should come from someone who has the capacity to provide some kind. commentary on health issues – the health of pesticide use and the risk to the health of players on the field, ”Hawkins said.

Corbet herself, a guest at the meeting, cautioned the “Fields Committee” in her “use of terminology that has been used in terms of the Saxony domain”, which she described as “very actively used. “.

“We bring in cities and outside organizations to play all kinds of sports and so on,” she said. “I want to be very careful with our use of risk and head injuries etc. because that can create a sense of responsibility that we want to be concerned about.”

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