School grounds and athletic fields are an integral part of many students’ lives. Consistent exercise is a fundamental integral component contributing to the health of children (Boreham and Riddoch, 2001). Therefore, athletic fields (and school grounds) not only serve as homes to athletic teams, but are also used as recreation areas for children to play throughout the day. For this reason, a clear understanding of how pesticide bans have changed both grounds maintenance expenses and field quality is essential for gauging player safety and also educating local and state policymakers about budget impacts. As many school systems look to reduce their budgets for grounds and athletic field upkeep, financial support for school grounds care is a prime target for budget reduction. However, little, if any, research has examined how athletic field budgets and grounds quality have changed as pesticide bans have been implemented.
Pesticide use on food crops, ornamentals, and turf has come under increasing scrutiny over the past two decades. Recently, pesticide use on school grounds has received special attention given the potential health risk to students, faculty, and staff (Alarcon et al., 2005; Gilden et al., 2012). These and similar studies have led to 35 states proposing or enacting some type of regulation that addresses pesticide use on school grounds (Owens, 2009). The state regulations vary in scope with some limiting specific pesticide use (e.g., California, Louisiana, and Maine) and others focused on limiting application periods (e.g., Georgia and Illinois) (Owens, 2009). However, several states such as Connecticut and New York have enacted full pesticide bans on the school grounds used by children in day care and students in kindergarten to eighth grades.
Connecticut has had some form of pesticide regulation for school grounds for over two decades. The first Connecticut legislation Public Act (PA) 99-165 (codified under Connecticut General Statute Section 10-231) was passed into law with an effective date of 1 July 1999. PA99-165 required 1) pesticide applicators to have supervisor or operator certification; 2) local board of education to establish pest control policy (traditional or integrated pest management); 3) at the beginning of each school year, issue a policy statement to parents and indicate that they could register to be notified of pesticide applications and advised of emergency notification procedures; 4) each school to maintain a registry of parents requesting notification; 5) notify parents of treatments; 6) each school to maintain a record of application for 5 years; 7) placed restriction on timing of applications—Public Act codified under assigned enforcement responsibility to the State Department of Education (State of Connecticut, 1999).
In 2005, PA05-252 defined “lawn care pesticide” and “integrated pest management.” Lawn care pesticide was defined as “a pesticide registered by the United States Environmental Protection Agency and labeled pursuant to the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act for use on lawn, garden and ornamental sites or areas.” Integrated pest management (IPM) was defined as the “use of all available pest control techniques including judicious use of pesticides, when warranted, to maintain a pest population at or below an acceptable level, while decreasing the use of pesticides.” Furthermore, PA05-252 banned lawn care pesticide use on school grounds used by kindergarten to eighth grade students and on the school grounds of day care centers. A grace period from 1 Jan. 2006 through 1 July 2008 was given for lawn care pesticides to be used on school grounds in accordance with IPM plans (consistent with plans developed by the Commissioner of Environmental Protection) maintained by each school district’s board of education and monitored by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) (State of Connecticut, 2005). The grace period was extended to 1 July 2010 at which point all lawn care pesticides were banned from kindergarten to eighth grade public/private schools and day care centers. The only exception is in the case of an imminent threat to human health, whereby pesticides could be applied with the authorization of the Commissioner of Public Health, the Commissioner of DEEP, or the school superintendent of a public elementary school.
Decreased pesticide use has been shown to make it difficult to control weeds, insects, and diseases in newly seeded and established turfgrass stands (Miller and Henderson, 2012). This is particularly a challenge on athletic fields and other intensively used, recreational turfgrass areas as a result of their high use and intensity of traffic. Persistent turfgrass wear and reduction in turfgrass cover create an environment that is favorable for pest encroachment that can severely reduce playing surface quality (Dest and Ebdon, 2011; Henderson et al., 2013). Athletic fields and school grounds are an integral part of many students’ lives, notably their use for activities incorporating exercise. Turfgrass areas not only serve athletic teams, but are also used to conduct physical education classes and as recreation areas for children.
Sport injuries have been linked to playing surface quality and conditions (Chomiak et al., 2000; Harper et al., 1984; Orchard, 2002). Therefore, lower turfgrass quality on athletic fields and school grounds has the potential to adversely affect the health and safety of children participating in required classes and other popular recreational activities. As noted by testimony given to the Connecticut Committee on Public Health and the Connecticut Environment Committee by representatives of the Connecticut Association of Athletic Directors (2014), Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents (2014), Connecticut Council of Small Towns (2014), Connecticut Environmental Council (2014), among others, playing surfaces in Connecticut have been negatively impacted by the pesticide ban leading some to be potentially hazardous to children. For this reason, a clear understanding of how pesticide bans have changed athletic field/grounds quality is essential for gauging potential impact to user safety. As pesticide regulations become more commonplace, several studies have examined turfgrass management methods to help managers adapt to limited or no pesticide use regulations (Bingaman and Christians, 1995; Koppenhöfer and Fuzy, 2008; Liu and Christians, 1997; Miller and Henderson, 2012, 2013). However, the change in management costs associated with implementing the best management practices for managing pesticide-free cool-season turfgrass has not been definitely determined (Henderson et al., 2013). Assessing the effect of pesticide bans on management expenses is essential for educating local and state policymakers about budget influences. Additionally, as many school systems look to reduce their budgets for athletic fields and general grounds management, financial support for managing high-quality turfgrass areas is a prime target for budget reduction. However, little, if any, research has examined how athletic field/grounds quality and management budgets have changed as pesticide bans have been implemented. Overall, there has been little effort devoted to understanding the impact of these regulations on playing surface quality of athletic fields, the overall quality of school grounds, and management expenses. Additionally, no study has examined how a grounds manager’s experience and level of education may impact the overall quality of school grounds.
The overall objective of this research was to determine the role of school grounds/athletic field management expenses and median household income of the school district on the perceived quality of school grounds/athletic fields as assessed by the school grounds manager. Of note, the school grounds manager indicated how they perceived quality had changed. Because no quantifiable measures (i.e., amount of disease/insect pressure, color, or hardness of the grounds/fields) was undertaken, the results are based on the overall quality of the grounds/fields as perceived by the school grounds manager. The specific objectives of this research were to: 1) test the hypothesis that increased expenditures would have a positive impact on school grounds/athletic field quality while decreased expenditures would have a negative effect; and 2) to test the hypothesis that areas with higher median household incomes would have higher school grounds/athletic field quality compared with areas with lower median household incomes. The first hypothesis was driven by the fact that we expected school grounds/athletic field managers who devoted more budget toward the grounds/fields, whether to cover potential labor cost increases and/or more costly cultural remedies, and to have either no change or increased grounds/field quality. The second hypothesis is based on the likelihood that schools in more affluent areas potentially have greater means and resources to manage school grounds/athletic fields given these drastic restrictions as well as increased expectations about their school grounds/athletic field quality. This research focused on management practices as they transitioned from conventional pest management (calendar-based pest management) to IPM to pesticide-free management practices. In this article, reference to “pesticide-free” refers to the lack of ability to use U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-registered pesticides as part of school grounds/athletic field management practices. The relative quality of school grounds/athletic fields under each pest management regime was also examined.
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