North Tampa residents win battle to stop chemical use at golf course

TAMPA — People who live around the Babe Zaharias Golf Course have won their yearlong battle to stop the Tampa Sports Authority from using a pesticide that some say has made them sick.

But it wasn't the authority that gave in to the group's demands.

Chemical giant Dow AgroSciences decided Thursday to cancel an application of the soil fumigant Curfew next week.

"In light of strong protests and threatened actions of a vocal group of residents and activists, Dow AgroSciences will not place the applicator, itself, or the product in a volatile situation that could result in unfounded allegations, the unnecessary expenditure of regulatory resources or potential litigation," Dow officials told the authority in a written statement, adding that the agency has failed to defuse the controversy.

Curfew applications will continue on other golf courses in Florida, the company said.

Robert Lawson was among those fighting the use of Curfew on North Tampa's Babe Zaharias Golf Course, which is owned by the city and managed by the Tampa Sports Authority.

There are about 1,100 homes in the neighborhood association that includes the course, and several hundred homes adjacent to it.

Lawson lives on the course's third fairway. In 2006, fumes from the chemical made him sick, he said. "I thought I was having a heart attack," he said.

But appeals to the Sports Authority, Tampa City Council, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, Gov. Charlie Crist and even President Barack Obama went nowhere.

"We got no response from any of the politicians. None," Lawson said. "It's unconscionable not only for them to use this stuff but to make us go through what we had to go through to prevent it."

Earlier this month, Lawson and his neighbors filed complaints with local, state and federal environmental regulators.

Curfew is used to control nematodes and mole crickets. Its active ingredient is 1,3-dichloropropene. The product's warning label says its vapors can cause kidney, lung and liver damage and death if inhaled. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency classifies it as a probable carcinogen.

Curfew's active ingredient has been sold for use on farms since 1975. Dow won approval to sell Curfew for use on golf courses and sports fields in Florida in 2001. At the time, the label required a 100-foot buffer from homes and other occupied buildings.

In 2007, Dow received approval from the Florida Department of Agriculture to reduce the buffer zone to 30 feet. Dow gave state regulators a report from the EPA that said, based on studies provided by Dow, Curfew could be safely used with no buffer at all.

But the research on Curfew and golf courses isn't conclusive. Most studies have focused on farms, where it is applied differently and at higher rates than on golf courses.

Curfew also has the potential to contaminate groundwater. It is not sold in northern states because cold temperatures make it more likely to poison drinking water. And it's not sold in Miami-Dade County because of concerns about the aquifer.

The Tampa Sports Authority will explore other options for treating the golf course, said spokeswoman Barbara Casey.

"We certainly intend to take the best care of the course that we can," she said. "This is a city course. A lot of people rely on us."

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.

North Tampa residents win battle to stop chemical use at golf course 07/17/09 [Last modified: Saturday, July 18, 2009 1:53pm]

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