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Pesticides are in wide use on athletic fields, playgrounds, and school grounds.

Pesticides such as insecticides, herbicides and fungicides are substances used to kill or control insects, weeds, fungi, rodents, bacteria, or other unwanted organisms. Learn more about pesticides here.

Nearly all publicly managed parks and playing fields are treated with chemical pesticides. But there are exceptions: check out the communities on our map that have committed to finding a better way.

organic landscaping standard

Girls relaxing on picnic blanket

The federal organic standard that regulates the production of certified organic food was not designed to apply to landscaping. We have worked with our collaborating organizations to develop a set of requirements for communities participating in the StonyFields program for organic landscaping that are based on the national organic standard. Similar to the national organic standard, the organic landscaping standards in use by the StonyFields program require playing field managers to start by using a systems approach to build healthy soil and deter pest problems. The StonyFields program prohibits the use of toxic persistent pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, and genetically modified organisms, using the same criteria as the national organic standard. Building healthy soil using organic amendments and compost, proper plant selection and cultivation, and monitoring to detect pests and weeds before they become an issue are key components of the program.

learn about pesticides on playing fields

Why are they used?
Herbicides are used to control weeds. Insecticides are applied to kill a variety of bugs and grubs that can create problems in playing field management. Fungicides are periodically required, especially in humid regions, to control fungal pathogens, nematodes, and other pathogens.  
So what’s the problem?
Pesticides have many health risks, especially for children, who are particularly vulnerable. Back in 2004, a National Cancer Institute-led report concluded that “evidence clearly suggests that, at current exposures, pesticides adversely affect human health.”  This is true not just for professionals who handle pesticides in their work but also for the rest of us who encounter pesticides and their residues at low levels in our daily lives.  Learn more about pesticides and health risks here.
Are children exposed to the pesticides on playing fields?
Children can be exposed to pesticides through the food they eat, the water they drink and the air they breathe. On the fields and lawns where they play, kids can be exposed primarily through skin contact and inhalation.

Skin Contact

When kids run around playing field sports like soccer, baseball and football they’re constantly touching the grass, either directly or through handling the ball. The herbicide sprayed on that field can get absorbed directly through the skin, the body’s largest organ.

That’s bad news for everyone but children are especially vulnerable. First, they are simply closer to the ground than adults. And when they play, it’s more ‘rough and tumble’, often sliding, falling and rolling into the dirt. Children also have more permeable skin than adults and they have more skin surface area in comparison with their overall body weight, compared with a fully-grown person.

Breathing

Children can also be exposed to toxins by simply breathing. When a child breathes in air filled with herbicide-laden dust or vaporized herbicide, this inhaled dose is absorbed into the child’s blood stream almost immediately, reaching all organs soon after. Pesticides like glyphosate that stick to the soil are especially likely to be inhaled when kids, playing on treated fields, kick up dust.

Exposure to pesticides used in a playing field or on a lawn can continue long after children have stopped playing. After leaving the fields, children can track pesticide residue inside their homes and classrooms on their clothes and shoes. Learn more about ‘pesticide drift’.
Who keeps track of pesticides used on school grounds and playing fields?
No one. The federal government’s primary pesticide focus is on its use in agriculture. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) tracks pesticide use on major field crops like corn, soybeans, and cotton, as well as fruits and vegetables. The EPA issues periodic reports on pesticide use and sales in agricultural sector, home use, and industry and government. Spraying of pesticides on parks, school grounds and playing fields would fall into the latter categories, but is not broken out so it is hard to track.
How often are pesticides likely to be applied over the course of a year?
On playing fields and parks with already established grass, weed killers (herbicides) are the most common pesticide applied. They are likely to be sprayed at least once but usually not more than 3 times a year.
After a field has been sprayed, don’t all herbicides have a stated field re-entry time so you know it’s permitted to go back on the field?
Most herbicides have a stated field re-entry interval, the minimal time between an application and when it is supposed to be safe for people to re-enter the treated area, e.g., a playing field.

Weather conditions can increase the risk of exposure--something that stated field re-entry intervals may not take into account. If it rains after spraying, for instance, there could be wet spots and pools of water around the fields. Re-entry intervals are simply not set to protect kids who just might occasionally enjoy flag football in the mud on a field sprayed earlier in the week.

Note that these re-entry intervals are set by manufacturers and the EPA, and are based on the premise that no use of a pesticide should cause “unreasonable adverse effects on man or the environment.” But here’s the problem: it takes years of systematic data collection and research to convincingly show that a particular adverse health outcome is being caused by use of a particular pesticide, or a group of pesticides. So scientists, in quantifying the adverse impacts of pesticides on childhood development and life-long health trajectories, are always playing catch up.

Our current pesticide regulatory laws and policies fail to fully explore problems before opening the door to widespread use of new pesticides. Once the door to the market is opened, the law shifts the burden of proving harm to the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Unfortunately, the EPA frequently lacks both the resources and the political will to adequately assess and regulate these chemicals. The result is that stated field re-entry intervals may be too short, and pesticides approved for use in parks and playing fields include chemicals with known negative health impacts.
Who else might be exposed, and hence at risk, from the use of pesticides on playing fields?
Those mixing and applying pesticides face the highest risks, especially those applications made with handheld and backpack sprayers (e.g., around grand stands and structures, along fence rows).

Adults and other students who spend time on fields – coaches, maintenance staff, cheerleaders, parents and relatives – can also be exposed.
Are pesticides used on parks or playgrounds different from those sprayed on playing fields?
In general, there are no significant differences between how playing fields are managed on school grounds, in parks, or other areas where children and families spend time outdoors.
What does ‘pesticide drift’ refer to?
Unfortunately, what happens on the field doesn’t always stay on the field. Due to wind and rain, pesticides can go far from where they were sprayed, leaving people exposed without realizing it.

And all too often pesticide residue from fields finds its way into family living rooms, tracked in on children’s clothes and shoes, and by family pets. Studies have shown that pesticides last much longer inside than outdoors because they are protected from sun and rain that would naturally break them down.
How can people limit their exposure to pesticides used in playing field management?
The very best long-term solution is to convert to organic pest management systems and use bio-pesticides as needed. You can learn more about how playing fields, parks, and home lawns can be managed organically.

One very short-term fix is to assure that signs placed at the entrances to fields that state clearly when a pesticide application was made will help. Such signage should state clearly what was applied and when people can re-enter the field.

At a minimum, communities should urge school districts to at least double—or, even better, triple--the field re-entry intervals required on product labels to reduce exposures and risks.

join the movement

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." - Margaret Mead

Please join us in celebrating and supporting the towns across America who have already begun to take steps to reduce the use of harmful pesticides on the playing fields in their community.

Is your town on the map? Find out below

Click Here
StonyFIELDS Movement Map

pesticides & playing fields in the news

Novato halts glyphosate use, joining Marin trend
The city of Novato has joined other Marin cities and local governments in eliminating the use of glyphosate, the key ingredient in the Roundup brand weed killer that puts users at a heightened risk of cancer. Read more.

Article: Marin Independent Journal; Photo: Alan Dep/Marin Independent Journal
Pesticide Studies Won E.P.A.’s Trust, Until Trump’s Team Scorned ‘Secret Science’
Backed by agrochemical companies, the current administration and Congress are moving to curb the role of human health studies in regulation. Read more.

Article: New York Times; Photo: Carlos Chavarría for The New York Times
Bayer's Monsanto faces 8,000 lawsuits on glyphosate
The number of U.S. lawsuits brought against Bayer’s (BAYGn.DE) newly acquired Monsanto has jumped to about 8,000, as the German drugmaker braces for years of legal wrangling over alleged cancer risks of glyphosate-based weedkillers. Read more.

Article: Reuters; Photo: REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo
Canada to phase out crop chemicals linked to bee deaths
The Canadian government said on Wednesday it would move to restrict use of two types of crop chemicals that have been linked to deaths of aquatic insects and bees, in a victory for environmentalists and the latest setback for companies that sell the pesticides. Read more.

Article: Reuters; Photo: REUTERS/Dave Stobbe
Jury orders Monsanto to pay nearly $290M in Roundup trial
The Canadian government said on Wednesday it would move to restrict use of two types of crop chemicals that have been linked to deaths of aquatic insects and bees, in a victory for environmentalists and the latest setback for companies that sell the pesticides. Read more.

Article: NBCNEWS; Photo: Josh Edelson / Pool via Reuters file