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Pesticides and Public Parks

By Bruce Fordyce

In Massachusetts, carcinogenic pesticides or products that contain EPA List 1, Inerts of Toxicological Concern can no longer be applied to school grounds, and no pesticides can be applied for purely aesthetic reasons.

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The emerging trend in pest management, whether insects or weeds, is to reduce or eliminate the use of chemical pesticides. As more and more laws are passed to limit, ban or reduce pesticide use, the landscape contractor needs to understand this trend and adapt to different methods of pest management.

Even though chemical pesticides have played a major role in the maintenance of parks and playgrounds, this era may be coming to a close. There are a host of laws and ordinances that are driving the trend away from chemical pesticide use on public lands.

In Branford, Connecticut all of the town's playing fields, parks, and public green spaces are managed without the use of chemical pesticides.

New York

In 2010, New York Governor Patterson signed the Child Safe Playing Field Act into law. The law requires that all schools, preschools, and day-care centers, both public and private, stop using pesticides on any playgrounds or playing fields. Many local schools such as the Three Village Central School District, Smithtown and Bayport-Blue Point have already done away with harmful pesticides.

Lemmongrass oil is just one of many oils that are effective at pest management that qualify as ''Generally Regarded As Safe or GRAS' by EPA when talking about minimum risk pesticide (biopesticide). Some of the other plant based components include: Cedar oil, corn gluten meal and corn oil, and sodium chloride (common salt), just to name a few.


Connecticut was the first state to enact a ban on chemical pesticides on public and private schools that have children in eighth grade or lower. Landscape contractors will no longer be able to use pesticides on their grass or playing fields, so says the new state law that took effect July 1, 2010. The law expanded the prohibition of pesticides on school grounds to the playing fields. The law, however, does allow pesticide use to eliminate ''an immediate threat to human health.''

Some state school districts didn't wait for the law to implement a no pesticide policy. Newtown School Superintendent Janet Robinson told that her district has been free of pesticides for about three years. ''We knew it was inevitable,'' she said. Before the new law, the school districts were required to keep a list of students whose parents wanted notification whenever a pesticide was used on school grounds.

Connecticut Department of Education spokesman Thomas Murphy said there are alternatives to pesticide use, and that ''all sectors are moving in that direction.'' According to ICT Organics' Bill Skerett, ''The City of Greenwich, uses several of ICT Organics products, including fungicide (NPP), pesticide (Essential-1) and Gluten-8, which is liquid corn gluten meal.''

Connecticut became the first state to ban the applications of synthetic weed killers around schools and daycare centers in grades K-12. The new Connecticut law extends the ban to include pesticides on grass or playing fields on the grounds of any public or private preschool or public or private school with students in grade K-12.


In San Francisco, city contractors who apply pesticides to City property (must) eliminate or reduce pesticide applications on City property to the maximum extent feasible. In Santa Barbara, the city promotes ''the use of non-hazardous and/or reduced risk alternatives that are protective of human health and the environment.''

New Mexico

In Santa Fe, Ordinance # 2001-10 reads (in part), ''it shall be the policy of the city of Santa Fe to eliminate or reduce pesticide applications on city property to the maximum extent feasible.''

The New York Child Safe Playing Field Act requires that all schools, preschools, and day-care centers, both public and private, stop using pesticides on any playgrounds or playing fields.


In Wichita, the ordinance states that, ''In order to preserve our natural and economic resources, the City of Wichita will maximize use of native species and minimize use of pesticides and herbicides...Pesticide application is used only when cultural practices are not adequate to control pests or disease problems. Least-toxic alternative is used when chemicals are necessary for control.''

Federal Pesticide Bill

Legislation is pending at the federal level as well. The School Environment Protection Act of 2009 (SEPA) has been introduced by Representative Rush Holt of New Jersey's 12th District. The legislation would ban the use of synthetic fertilizers.

Like many aspects of the law, in the absence of a national policy, laws and regulations vary from state to state. Pesticide licensing is different in every state. In New York, the landscape contractor does not have to be licensed to spray minimum risk pesticides, but just across the border in New Jersey, they do. In most states if the contractor claims they are killing something they have to be licensed, but if they claim to be ''managing something,'' no license is required.

New Jersey has enacted a statewide integrated pest management policy in regards to public school ground. The law states, ''Each school shall consider the full range of management options, including no action at all. Non-pesticide pest management methods are to be used whenever possible.The choice of using a pesticide shall be based on a review of all other available options and a determination that these options are not effective or not reasonable. When it is determined that a pesticide must be used, low impact pesticides and methods are preferred and shall be considered for use first.''

The Landscape Professionals

The effect on landscape contractors has not been as bad as one might think. According to Bob Hefferman from the Connecticut Nursery and Landscaping Association, Connecticut landscape contractors had about five years to get ready for this, and as a result they were prepared for it. He said that association seminars on organic lawn care are always packed, and that he has not heard significant complaints from the association's membership about the issue. But not all contractors are happy about the situation.

''I have been getting a lot of inquiries and a certain amount of frustration,'' said Bradford Robinson, pesticide program supervisor for the state Department of Environmental Protection. One grounds manager called him recently to ask him how to get rid of the billbugs destroying a new field. ''I told him he had to reseed and start over,'' he said. But, Robinson added, ''there is a lot you can do to prevent certain problems'' by using organic lawn care methods.

Alternatives to Chemical Pesticides

Among the alternatives are: Integrated pest management and bio-pesticides. Biopesticides are pesticides derived from natural materials such as animals, plants, bacteria, and certain minerals. For example, canola oil and baking soda have pesticide applications and are considered biopesticides.

Biopesticide Ingredients And Their Uses

One preventive and curative fungicide that can be applied to turf sites controls dollar spot, brown patch, anthracnose, red thread, pink patch, leaf spot, gray leaf spot, rust, snowmold, fusarium patch, southern blight, summer patch, pythium blight, fairy ring and take-all patch. Its active ingredients are cinnamon oil and potassium sorbate, and includes inert ingredients such organic vinegar, hydrolyzed amino acids, processed crustacea and water.

ICT Organics' Essential-1 PHE provides rapid knockdown/kill and protection for a number of parks and playground applications. It takes care of ants, armyworms, billbugs, chinch bugs, chiggers, crickets, cutworms, earwigs, fleas, grasshoppers, hyperodes weevils (adults), Japanese beetles (adults), mole crickets, mosquitoes, sod webworms and ticks. Its active ingredients are Castor oil, cedar oil, citric acid, garlic oil, sodium lauryl sulfate and white pepper.

Pesticide Makers Look to Organics

Traditional pesticide manufacturers are getting into the bio-pesticide business as well. Monsanto Company and AgraQuest, Inc. entered into a collaboration to evaluate the potential use of AgraQuest's bio-pesticides.
Effective pest management using non-chemicals is more an educational process, than a serious setback for park maintenance professionals.

According to Bill Skerrett of ICT Organics, ''EPA uses the term 'Generally Regarded As Safe or GRAS' when talking about minimum risk pesticide or what they also call a biopesticide. The contents (of these pesticides) are mostly plant-based extracts. You may look and wonder how they can compete with their chemical counterpart, but believe me these things are very effective when used properly.'' He added, ''Our fungicide NPP is killer on almost every fungal disease and the fungi cannot build resistance to it because it melts (hydrolyzes) the fugal wall, it is actually a form of glucosamine that's how safe it is; you can spray the kids and pets with no issues and there are no reentry times. It works in just hours to completely stop the outbreak.''


As chemical pesticide use is being legislated against, it behooves the landscape contractor to investigate the alternatives to pest management and lawn care so they are not caught off guard.

One of the approved ingredients for biopesticides is common Potassium sorbate. For a complete list of approved ingredients, landscape contractors and turf grass professionals can visit the EPA website.

Approved Ingredients for Biopesticides

For more information about biopesticides, the US Environmental Protection Agency has dedicated web pages that landscape contractors can read.
This is a partial list of EPA's approved biopesticide ingredients:

  • Castor oil (U.S.P. or equivalent)
  • Linseed oil
  • Cedar oil
  • Malic acid
  • Cinnamon and cinnamon oil
  • Mint and mint oil
  • Citric acid
  • Peppermint and peppermint oil
  • Citronella and Citronella oil
  • 2-Phenethyl propionate (2-phenylethyl propionate)
  • Cloves and clove oil
  • Potassium sorbate
  • Corn gluten meal
  • Putrescent whole egg solids
  • Corn oil
  • Rosemary and rosemary oil
  • Cottonseed oil
  • Sesame (includes ground sesame plant) and sesame oil
  • Dried Blood
  • Sodium chloride (common salt)
  • Eugenol
  • Sodium lauryl sulfate
  • Garlic and garlic oil
  • Soybean oil
  • Geraniol
  • Thyme and thyme oil
  • Geranium oil
  • Zinc metal strips (consisting solely of zinc metal and impurities)
  • Lemongrass oil
  • White pepper
  • Lauryl sulfate

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June 18, 2019, 8:36 am PDT

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