Skip to content

European Governments Protect Residents By Allowing Fewer Pesticides On Golf Courses Than in the US

Once again Europe is better at protecting people than the US (Surprise, surprise! Not...) This time a study compared pesticide use on golf courses in different regions of the US and 3 European countries (UK, Denmark, Norway).  It found that the number of pesticide products and pesticide use is significantly higher in the US than in Europe - the risk to people from pesticides is 15 times higher in the US than the European countries.

This is because Europe is actively trying to reduce the amount of pesticides used, while the US is not. The European Union has banned a number of the most dangerous pesticides, while the US has not. Fewer pesticides (20 or fewer) are allowed to be used on golf courses in the 3 European countries, while many more (200 to 250) are allowed in the US.

Important: Pesticides drift onto neighboring properties when applied, they contaminate water and soil, people breathe them in, get them on their skin (and so absorb them). They have harmful effects to our health and environment, even at low doses.

Excerpts from Beyond Pesticides: Pesticide Dangers at Golf Courses Much Higher in the U.S. than Europe, Study Finds  

Pesticide use on golf courses in the United States poses significantly more risk to human health than those in Europe, according to a study published this month in Science of the Total Environment. The findings highlight yet another area of land management where the U.S. is dangerously behind the European Union, as these countries are set to ban pesticides in parks, playgrounds, and playing fields, and have established a 50% reduction goal for agriculture by 2030.

Meanwhile U.S. agencies continue to perpetuate widespread toxic pesticide use, with U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack even working to counter the EU’s reduction goals through a separate, “market-oriented” initiative alongside pesticide industry-friendly countries like UAE and Brazil.

Researchers found that pesticide risks from golf courses in the U.S. were on average 15 times higher than those in the EU. In order to come to that conclusion, surveys were sent out to courses in eight regions: East Texas, Florida, the Midwest, Northeast, and Northwest in the U.S., and the United Kingdom, Denmark, and Norway in Europe. Recorded answers (including product applied, date, rate, and area of application) were incorporated into the development of a hazard quotient (HQ), a ratio of pesticide exposure to a chemical’s toxicity. High hazard quotients indicate high risks to human health, while lower numbers indicate less risk. Such a model only captures the acute effects of pesticides, and not chronic impacts, but can nonetheless provide important data about pesticide dangers.

The highest single HQ (hazard quotient) for a golf course was found in Florida at 40,806. While the region with the highest average hazard quotient was U.S. Northwest at 13,696, with the lowest was found in Norway and Denmark at 64. ...

Although scientists hypothesized that golf courses in more southern regions of the U.S., with their longer growing seasons, would pose a greater risk than those with shorter seasons, this findings did not pan out. Economic factors also played less of a role than researchers expected. Only in Europe and the northern U.S. were any correlations found, with pesticide budget significantly factoring into pesticide risk. However, in all regions, pesticide use intensity was strongly associated with the number of maintenance employees on staff and the pesticide budget per hectare.

Overall scientists zeroed in on one defining factor differentiating pesticide risk on a region’s golf course: the regulatory environment. As the study explains, “Golf courses in regulatory environments where <100 pesticide products were available had a median CWA-HQ [component-weighted-average hazard quotient) of 248, which was significantly lower than mean pesticide risk on golf courses located in regulatory environments which allowed >100 pesticide products, which had a mean CWA-HQ of 7031.”

Indeed while the EU regulates pesticides based on hazards, the inherent toxicity of a chemical pesticide, the U.S. regulates based on risk, looking at the chance a pesticide will have a harmful effect on human health or the environment. “The risk based system used by the EPA has led to a much higher number of pesticides being available for golf courses in the US,” the study notes. In Denmark and Norway, less than 20 pesticide products are permitted to be applied to golf courses.

It is worth emphasizing that this review only focused on acute risks posed by pesticides. Chronic impacts present a greater long term threat to human health, as consistent exposure over years of playing or golf course maintenance adds to one’s exposome, the sum total of toxic exposures over one’s lifetime. While research is few and far between, a factor primarily based on the difficulty in getting pesticide use reports from golf courses, the research available indicate elevated risk of various cancers (brain, prostate, non-Hodgkin lymphoma) and nervous system disorders among golf course superintendents.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *