To protect people and the environment, golf course properties must take safety seriously when it comes to the storage and handling of chemicals and fertilizers.
The general public often unfairly maligns golf courses for the maintenance inputs they use to keep the turf healthy and the membership happy. Along with water usage, one of the most misunderstood practices in the golf course maintenance business is the use of chemicals and fertilizers.
|SUMMING IT UP
The reality is that most golf course maintenance facilities “have the basics covered” when it comes to safe storage and handling of those materials. Mark Johnson, Associate Director of Environmental Programs for the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA), reports that a 2009 GCSAA survey on practices for pesticide storage, mixing and loading at U.S. golf courses showed that 94 percent of the survey respondents said they stored pesticides on-site in a locked or restricted area. (See charts below for the prevalence of other practices as reflected by that 2009 survey; the GCSAA will start another survey on pesticide management this June, and new data should be available next year.)
Know Your Environment
To minimize the risks involved with pesticide and fertilizer storage, Johnson notes, superintendents should know their environment, their soils, and their surface water.
“They should know where to locate the chemicals in relation to the maintenance facility, so it doesn’t freeze or get too hot,” he adds.
The construction of an environmental management center is typically driven by cost and local building codes, says an executive with a national architectural firm that specializes in designing and building environmentally compliant course maintenance facilities. But for maximum effectiveness, he says, storage facilities should be constructed of concrete or metal, and have walls that are coated with an epoxy-based paint.
Environmental centers can house $500,000-plus worth of equipment that is used to take care of a property’s most valuable asset (the golf course), the design firm executive explains, and that, along with a heightened desire to be ecologically responsible and good community citizens, is leading more properties to build a true turf care “campus.” This arrangement often includes one building for administrative offices and a separate facility that encompasses a fertilizer storage area, a product-mixing zone, fueling station, and washing station.
Other recommendations that the design firm executive makes include having the capability to load equipment above a large entrapment container in the floor; taking steps to keep chemicals out of the public sanitation system; and ensuring the ability to recapture spills for reuse. In addition, he adds, most volatile chemicals should be stored in a self-contained, fireproof and explosive-proof building. He also recommends the use of above-ground storage tanks for fuel, because they are safer, more user-friendly, and more environmentally friendly than underground tanks.
Best Management Practices: Pesticide Storage
Source: Best Management Practices for the Enhancement of Environmental Quality of Florida Golf Courses; prepared by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Florida Golf Course Superintendents Association, University of Florida, and other private-sector partners
Temperature and ventilation are also important considerations, to avoid freezing or overheating. “A lot of exhaust can be managed through a thermostat,” the executive notes.
In addition, structures should include as much extra space as possible, because they inevitably become the storage area for seasonal decorations, or a place to paint benches and ball washers in the off-season.
“The buildings are mostly about function and not about aesthetics,” the executive says. “These are pre-manufactured buildings, customized to [a property’s particular] use.”
Many properties are putting these recommendations into practice. Several years ago, Black Hall Golf Club in Old Lyme, Conn., built a $1.3 million, four-structure maintenance complex. The buildings include a 12,000-sq. ft. turf care maintenance facility, which houses administrative offices and an equipment storage area; a 2,400-sq. ft. fuel and wash building; a 2,400-sq. ft. environmental management center, where chemicals and fertilizers are stored in a fireproof area; and a five-bay (two covered) bulk material storage structure.
Black Hall’s environmental management center is a concrete block building, and chemicals are stored in a metal trailer inside the building. The facility also includes an emergency eyewash and shower station, spark-proof switches, two spark-proof exhaust fans, and a 300-gallon polyethylene tank where any spilled materials can be stored for reuse.
Products that spill can be reused, Golf Course Superintendent Philip Neaton explains, because any spillage flows into a grate and then into a sump. “The biggest thing is to prevent spills and to know what to do in case of a spill,” says Neaton. “And make sure a bag is completely empty. Don’t leave anything lying around. That’s where you get in trouble.”
“We try to be as careful as we can be,” he adds. “It doesn’t pay not to be. We’re on the front line. If there’s a problem, we’ll be the first to be affected by it.”
The Black Hall staff stores its plant protectants on plastic shelves, and the metal part of the building is heated. “Anything liquid goes into the heated building, so it doesn’t freeze,” Neaton explains.
The Black Hall building also has plenty of storage space, so Neaton can order products in bulk to save costs. “Most of the products we use are seasonal, and manufacturers will give you a significant break in price,” he reports. However, he adds, he doesn’t use any products unless necessary, because it is expensive and environmentally irresponsible to do otherwise.
The Everglades Club in Palm Beach, Fla., stores its chemicals and fertilizers in a concrete block structure that has concrete flooring, plastic shelving, and exhaust fans. In addition, the building has no heat or air conditioning, so the temperature inside is the same as the temperature outside.
Preparing a Proper Spill Kit
All properties working with hazardous chemicals should purchase or assemble a spill kit that is dedicated for spill remediation only. The materials should be kept in an accessible place near the site where pesticides or other hazardous products are handled. They should be stored in sealed, sturdy, plastic containers so they will be available, clean, and in working order if needed. Parts or pieces should not be used for other routine activities, so that they will not be missing if needed.
Spill kits can be customized according to the labels and Material Safety Data Sheets for all products that a property uses and stores. Spill kits should include:
Source: Environmental Best Management Practices for Virginia’s Golf Courses, prepared by the Virginal Golf Course Superintendents Association
Chemicals are stored separately from fertilizers, and the rooms are kept under lock and key. “If there’s a leak, it can’t get out,” says Certified Golf Course Superintendent Peter Brooks. The property has never had a spill, Brooks notes, but the staff keeps sand available to absorb any potential spills.
At The Concession Golf Club in Bradenton, Fla., the maintenance staff stores its chemicals and fertilizers in a metal and concrete building that was built in 2006. The separate chemical storage room features a locked door with limited access, as well as stainless-steel and wire shelving.
“We don’t store any liquids above dry products, so they don’t drip down on the dry materials and contaminate them. That’s key,” says Golf Course Superintendent Mark Henderson.
The chemical storage and mixing areas are combined in The Concession GC’s facility. The spray technicians mix and fill spray tanks in the same room and recycle the water. In addition, the building has exhaust fans that replace the air continuously, and it is fully contained in the event of a spill.
“We’re regularly inspected by the county and state,” notes Henderson. “We don’t have to have containment by law, so we’re ahead of the game. It’s common sense. If you can afford it, then you should do it. Containment is highly recommended by the Department of Agriculture, and anything that spills can be contained and recycled, so you can reuse it.”
The Club at Strawberry Creek in Kenosha, Wis., built a new maintenance facility in 2008. While the offices, mechanic’s workshop, and equipment storage area are housed under one roof, the property has a separate, locked, prefabricated chemical storage building located behind the chemical mixing and loading pad. The chemical storage building is self-contained as well, so if anything spills it cannot leak out. However, Strawberry Creek keeps a spill kit in the equipment workshop, so it will be accessible if anyone needs it.
In addition, notes Golf Course Superintendent Matt Kregel, “Everything related to chemicals that takes place on that pad is self-contained.”
While state law did not require the property to build the maintenance facility, Kregel says he “wanted to be ahead of the curve.” He had input into the design of the maintenance facility, and visited several properties before Strawberry Creek added the over-9,000-sq. ft. maintenance building and 8-foot-by-16-foot chemical storage area.
“The wheel doesn’t need to be reinvented,” Kregel says. “It’s a good idea to talk to a lot of people to find out what you do—and don’t—need to include. Ask people what they wish they had that they don’t have.”
While the Strawberry Creek chemical storage building has no cooling system, it has a heater that the staff turns on if the temperature drops below 50 degrees. The warmer it is, Kregel reports, the better the products mix.
In addition, he notes, “We have an exhaust fan that runs 24/7, so it’s always venting and exhausting any fumes. It’s bringing in fresh air and taking out the old.”
Chemicals are stored on diamond-plate metal shelving, and dry products are stored above liquid products. Kregel also keeps his inventory as small as possible, both for safety and insurance purposes. “I’m not a big fan of keeping stock from year to year, so I tend to use everything I purchase within a year,” he notes.
Out On the Grounds
Once they take plant protectants out of their storage buildings and onto their properties, superintendents continue to take safety precautions by following Integrated Pest Management (IPM) or other written plans.
According to the GCSAA’s 2009 survey, the most common reason given for the adoption of a written IPM plan by an average 18-hole golf facility—which was given by 68 percent of the respondents—was voluntary action initiated by the golf facility board, committee, or superintendent.
And when putting those IPMs in action, golf course properties provide spray technicians with personal protective equipment such as chemical-resistant jumpsuits, respirators, rubber nitrate gloves, and eye and ear protection.
At Black Hall GC, Neaton and his two assistants are state-licensed pesticide applicators, and they always follow the label instructions when they mix products. “It doesn’t make any sense not to,” Neaton reports.
While Neaton typically applies fertilizer when he sprays, he puts down preventive spray applications for certain problems such as insects or root disease. Otherwise, he explains, “By the time you see the symptoms, it’s too late.” He estimates that 10 to 15 percent of his applications are preventive.
The Black Hall staff constantly scouts the turf for disease and thresholds, to be sure no problem is developing. “If you don’t have an IPM, then you’re wasting a lot of money and a lot of effort,” notes Neaton.
At The Everglades Club, two state-licensed spray technicians also follow the labels exactly when they mix products, but they spray pesticides less than a dozen times a year. “We seldom spray pesticides due to proper nutritional management,” Brooks explains. However, he adds, the maintenance staff spoon-feeds the turf granular, foliar, and water-soluble products once or twice a week.
These practices have paid off, as The Everglades Club has been certified as an Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program (ACSP) for three years. In addition, the property already was following most of the best management practices that are necessary to achieve Audubon certification. “It’s fiscally responsible to do the proper thing, so you’re not wasting money,” notes Brooks.
At The Concession GC, Henderson and his two assistants are state-certified spray technicians, and a new spray technician is studying for his state certification license. All of the managers undergo ongoing training in areas such as spill response classes, to keep up with the latest information.
“Most of the time what we’re spraying is not toxic. We’re spraying nutritional products and plant protectants,” reveals Henderson. “To keep the plant healthy, you don’t need many pesticides. Because we’re educated in plant nutrition, we’re not creating our own problem.” Results from soil tests and tissue analyses also let staff members know exactly which products they need to apply.
The Concession GC, where grass covers only 80 of the property’s 525 acres, is in the process of pursuing ACSP certification. “I just think it’s a good thing to do as far as public relations is concerned,” Henderson explains. “We’re doing the same things that we do all the time anyway, and I’ve learned a lot about wildlife, plant materials, and different things that can help us manage our golf course more naturally with fewer inputs.”
Early scouting can also help superintendents manage pest-control practices before they have to invest in inputs, the GCSAA’s Johnson believes. Healthy turf will lessen the chance of disease and the need for weed control, he says, but disease such as snow mold is inevitable in some parts of the country.
In addition, Johnson says, all properties should comply with local and state OSHA regulations and follow the procedures on the Material Safety Data Sheets for products. Safety training is also available through software, books and online education, and at industry trade shows.
For properties with limited budgets, Johnson says the most important practices for safe storage and handling are storing similar chemicals and fertilizers together, and protecting the environment and people from the products. Technicians also should mix and load products in a controlled, eco-friendly area that allows for environmental protection and spill response.
Because products are expensive, Johnson notes, superintendents should consider their cost as well before making applications on greens, tees and fairways. However, he adds, “We’re not saturating an entire golf course. It’s those highly maintained surfaces.”
Paperwork is another important part of spray inputs, and superintendents find that the documentation required by state government entities benefits them as well.
At Black Hall GC, Neaton documents every spray product he uses on state forms, which include lot numbers and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) registration numbers. The forms also ask for information such as the amount of product the property uses in a season. “I don’t use more than a certain amount per acre per year,” Neaton reports.
At The Everglades Club, Brooks documents data about his spray applications—ranging from the application rate, to weather conditions, to where the staff sprays—on forms that are required by the state Department of Agriculture.
At The Concession GC, “We write everything down,” reports Henderson. “We want to know everything we’ve done—how much we use, and where we use it. It’s always good to refer back to that.”
At The Club at Strawberry Creek, Kregel keeps documentation about pesticide applications on file for years. The information he records includes the product applied, date of application, rate at which it was applied, area where it was applied, the name of the applicator, and weather information including temperature, humidity and wind direction.
Safety and Awareness
Through the years, superintendents also have seen improvements to chemicals and fertilizers that have made them less toxic and safer to use. “There has been an evolution, driven in part by EPA regulations and in part by manufacturers,” Johnson says. “Active ingredients are no longer available. They’ve had to research and develop safer products.”
In addition, states Brooks, who’s been in the business since 1979, products are now more insect- and problem-specific.
Henderson, who has also worked in the industry since 1979, says superintendents are also more aware of what they’re doing now. “You don’t use a product unless you absolutely have to,” he reports. “We have good technology, and we have lower application rates. The products are safer to use for the applicator and for the environment.”
Superintendents can also use more environmentally friendly inputs, notes Johnson, as new turf grass varieties continue to be developed. In addition, superintendents can control disease—and therefore, pesticide usage—through aerification, proper nutrients, and water management practices.
“We’re environmentalists. We work outside,” Henderson says. “We want to keep everything as pristine as we can and in as natural a state as possible. Golf courses aren’t artificial.”