Oak Hills members refute ‘Fore! Poison’ letter

The Oak Hills Park Authority is also storing hazardous material in a larger warehouse. (Photo and caption by Yvonne Lopaur)
The Oak Hills Park Authority is storing hazardous material in a large warehouse that was inspected by the fire marshal Wednesday and found to be secure, according to the golf course superintendent. (Photo by Yvonne Lopaur)

Update, 4 p.m., Jim Schell statement attached

NORWALK, Conn. – The Oak Hills Park Authority defended itself Thursday from the latest barrage of community activist concern, saying that its usage of pesticides and chemicals is actually significantly down from previous years, that the chemicals are stored properly and that the golf course is already doing many of the things that it would need to do to be certified by  Audubon International.

“We have some information here tonight and I think you will be surprised,” OHPA Chairman Clyde Mount said to Paul Cantor, a continual critic, early in Thursday’s meeting.

Cantor and Yvonne Lopaur began the meeting with follow-ups on the recent letter to the editor, “Fore! Poison,” which they signed along with several other people. Cantor handed over a list of questions, saying he’d like authority members to establish a practice of answering questions during the meeting; he still didn’t have an adequate answer as to why the authority was seeking city funding for its driving range instead of getting it from a private bank as Stamford had done, he said; and he wanted a response to the letter.

“You should not be using hazardous chemicals at all,” Lopaur said, “but, given that you are using hazardous chemicals and have not agreed to seek Audubon International certification, you should do everything you can to reassure the public that you are storing and applying them according to the safety guidelines,” she said.

Mount took care to answer the questions one by one and told Cantor he could ask follow-ups after the meeting. When the meeting ended, Lopaur and Cantor left without comment.

“Obviously the (city) funds would be much cheaper than going to a bank,” Mount said. “Could we go to a bank? Yes, and I explained this to you before Mr. Cantor. The reason Sterling Farms got their loan is they are backed by the city of Stamford, which means if we were to borrow from a public or a real bank, the city would still be on the hook for it whether we paid for it or not; I believe that is the same situation Sterling has.

“Will be applying for Audubon certification? …. I think you will be surprised with what we uncovered with your letter and the claims made and how things are a little bit different than you made them out to be,” he said.

In 2009, the Oak Hills Park Authority spent $140,000 on chemicals, Mount said. In 2013, the amount spent was less than $100,000, a 40 percent reduction. In 2014, $30,000 less was spent, he said.

Mount said he hadn’t considered testing the groundwater, but he was now thinking about how to do it. It would cost thousands, he said.

Authority member Joe Kendy spoke up, referring to experiences he said he had in 25 years in the cosmetics industry. Any substance can be referred to as being hazardous or causing cancer or toxic, he said.

“However, the question is use and exposure as to whether or not it is harmful to humans. There has been some controversy, at least in the industry I came from, which was resolved in that respect,” Kendy said.

There was evidence that hair dyes caused cancer in rats, he said. “A woman would have to drink gallons of hair dye for it to be toxic,” he said. “… I can’t believe that every golf course in this country is somehow exposing people to getting cancer easily.”

Golf course superintendent Jim Schell
Oak Hills Park Authority member Elsa Peterson Obuchowski, left; golf course superintendent Jim Schell, right.

Golf course superintendent Jim Schell said he is certified in pesticide application, as is his assistant. Oak Hills follows industry best practices, he said. He ticked off a list of procedures and said, “Most of these are directly from a list that Audubon Cooperative Sanctuaries require golf courses to do. I think almost all of the chemical use reduction and safety items are on our list, things that we already do. There are some other wildlife-type of things that we haven’t really participated in, but that is a different story and that is something we will shoot for some day. It usually takes one to three years to get certified by Audubon.”

Schell said there are wild turkeys, fox, deer and coyotes wandering Oak Hills.

A fire marshal had been to Oak Hills on Wednesday to look at the chemicals, he said. The only problem was that the labels were faded and needed to be replaced, he said.

“Our chemical storage structure is secure, well ventilated and allows limited personal access, just me and my assistant,” Schell said. “We supervise the maintenance facility for efficient and proper storage of equipment and supplies. We properly calibrate all equipment used to apply any material. We properly store all materials — pesticides are stored on metal shelving to keep them off the floor. Storage of liquid products is below dry products. We handle all pesticides over an impermeable surface. We triple rinse, puncture and properly dispose of empty chemical containers, which is the law. Chemical storage structure is fire proof and has a raised grate floor which contains any spills. We have explosion-proof lights and an explosion-proof heater in the chemical storage area.”

He said  the University of Minnesota had done a water quality study in collaboration with the University of Iowa, showing that 25 square feet of turf grass provides enough oxygen for one person for a whole day. “If Oak Hills has about 60 acres of maintained turf, that is enough oxygen for over 104,000 people for a whole day,” he said.

Authority member Elsa Peterson Obuchowski said she had gotten a letter from an integrated pest management specialist with SavATree. She quoted it, saying, “Any chemical has a potential to damage the environment. It depends on if they are used as directed. They are safe, otherwise their use wouldn’t be allowed. The letter at least implies that Audubon doesn’t allow the use of any chemicals to maintain greens. His response is that that is completely unrealistic to maintain a lawn, that there is going to be weeds, cinch bugs, various fungal diseases, and to control those there are chemicals that are needed.”

She continued, “He said this is very likely being done at any golf course. The majority of these chemicals can be bought by homeowners to control everything from carpenter ants to Japanese beetles, and indeed I did a little bit of Internet research and I found that, of this list, at least four of them can easily be bought by anybody from Home Depot or Agway and that a UConn report for 2013 mentions the use of at least six of these chemicals.”

She said she had talked to Recreation and Parks Department Director Mike Mocciae.

“One thing he mentioned is that the state has recently banned the use of all pesticides and chemicals on all elementary schools and middle schools on the play fields,” Peterson Obuchowski said. “As a result, they are having to put in artificial turf because you just have mud and weeds otherwise. If you are concerned about the environment, the idea of putting down artificial turf strikes me as counterproductive because you’ve got plastic, which is a petroleum product, and you’re not even getting the benefit of the grass and it’s interaction with the air and so forth.”

Lastly, she said she had emailed University of Connecticut Pesticide Safety Education program coordinator Candace Bartholomew, who said every chemical mentioned in “Fore! Poison” was registered for us in Connecticut and are commonly used. They are safe if used correctly, she said.

Peterson Obuchowski quoted Bartholomew as saying that the Extension Toxicology Network, which was quoted in the letter, was “very good, but when taken out of context or simply misunderstood, it can be misleading.” Peterson Obuchowski quoted Bartholomew as saying, “Remember, almost anything is toxic, the dose makes the poison. Even table salt can be toxic in high enough doses.”

Cantor did not ask follow-up questions at the meeting, but sent a late-night email to this reporter, “Footnote 2 to the Fore! Poison letter directed readers to this site www.beyondpesticides.org/dailynewsblog/?p=13301 … There is more information on the Web regarding the dangers of these chemicals of course.  Relying on information from a landscaping company that relies on these chemicals as Elsa did does not provide one with a lot of confidence. You can always find people and companies with a vested interest in selling or using these chemicals that will try to convince the public that they are not harmful.  Trichlorfon, Chlorpyrifos, and Dacon are used at Oak Hills according to the list (NancyOnNorwalk) obtained.”

Jim Schell Environmental Responsibility Statement


2 responses to “Oak Hills members refute ‘Fore! Poison’ letter”

  1. One and Done

    You have to wonder if this lunatic fringe would oppose OHPA building a mosque on site. Wish they would focus their hostility towards something that is really going to damage the city instead of their obsession with all things Oaks.

  2. Mike Mushak

    Concerning oneself with potential health consequences and groundwater contamination and protecting public health and the environment (as well as property values-can you imagine trying to sell a home with polluted well?) does not indicate “lunatic fringe”, but shows genuine concern for protecting our community.
    I didn’t sign the letter but I share the concerns of the good folks who did. I also support the new OHPA master plan, and a more cooperative approach between OHPA and their critics. Progress is being made as Mr. Mount indicated, and I think ratcheting down the anger on both sides, which is happening, is the best approach.

    I don’t see any harm in OHPA pursuing Audubon certification. It would be a feather in their cap, and save a ton of money as chemicals get more expensive every year, as well as fuel. I believe that Audebon standards would still allow chemical use to continue, with mitigation of the runoff and wildlife impacts considered. I have an organic garden at home but still use chemicals on the lawn to nuke the grubs that have periodically destroyed it without control. The organic control of grubs I tried was unsuccessful. But I also leave the clippings on the lawn after I mow, using a mulching mower, to return nitrogen to the soil that otherwise needs to be replaced with expensive fertilizer. The idea of removing clippings which is free nitrogen basically, is absurd. I still use limestone (organic) and a heavy fertilizer application in the fall to encourage root growth.
    I don’t see the golf course going over to artificial turf anytime soon, so a balance needs to be struck to protect groundwater and finances, and yet still have an acceptable playing surface. Having some weeds on the fairways is not the end of the world, either. Apparently the famous golf courses of Scotland are basically mowed weed patches. If its good enough for the Scots who invented the game, then maybe we can be a bit more tolerant here. World-class doesn’t have to mean perfect, or unhealthy, or potentially damaging to the groundwater. World-class can also mean being environmentally-friendly.

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