Tampa council requests monitoring of pesticide application at Forest Hills golf course

An ingredient has some residents concerned over its use on Babe Zaharias Golf Course.
About a half-dozen protesters picketed outside the Tampa Sports Authority's office at Raymond James Stadium on Thursday. The group opposed the authority's plan to apply the controversial pesticide Curfew at the Babe Zaharias Golf Course, which the Sports Authority manages, near Forest Hills. RICHARD DANIELSON  |  Times
About a half-dozen protesters picketed outside the Tampa Sports Authority's office at Raymond James Stadium on Thursday. The group opposed the authority's plan to apply the controversial pesticide Curfew at the Babe Zaharias Golf Course, which the Sports Authority manages, near Forest Hills. RICHARD DANIELSON | Times
Published May 5 2017
Updated May 6 2017

TAMPA — The City Council wants environmental regulators to monitor the application of a controversial pesticide that the Tampa Sports Authority plans to put on the Babe Zaharias Golf Course next week.

We can do that, a Hillsborough County Environmental Protection Commission official told the council this week.

Air quality test results could take a couple of weeks. But it's the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services that actually regulates the pesticide, known as Curfew, and would be responsible for follow-up if the tests find problems.

Manufactured by Dow Chemical, Curfew is designed to kill nematodes, a parasitic roundworm that damages grass by eating the roots. It must be applied by a state-licensed operator, and Florida requires a 30-foot setback from neighboring properties.

Its active ingredient is 1,3-Dichloropropene, which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has classified as a probable carcinogen. Used in agriculture for decades, it's injected a few inches below ground and emits a gas that kills nematodes as it rises to the surface.

Sports Authority officials say state regulators "do not have reason to believe that this product will pose any unreasonable risks to human safety or the environment, provided it is used according to label instructions."

The Sports Authority's maintenance contractor plans to apply the pesticide at 7 a.m. Tuesday. The golf course, practice areas and clubhouse will be closed until noon Wednesday.

This week, opponents of the plan took their concerns to the City Council and protested outside the Sports Authority's offices at Raymond James Stadium.

"We need to see a leader step up and take action to protect our community," Forest Hills resident Kevin Murdock said outside the stadium.

"This is bad stuff," said Robert Lawson, 74, who lives near the third fairway at Babe Zaharias. He said he felt dizzy, had trouble breathing and had a pounding heart after a previous application of Curfew at the golf course. "It made me sick the last time they did this."

The Sports Authority said that after the last application of Curfew in 2008, one person claimed to the state that the pesticide had caused sickness, but that was never substantiated.

Two residents told the council they support the Sports Authority.

"I hope that this matter is finally coming to a close," said Forest Hills homeowner Gail Matson-Wood. "It almost seems like it's been Halloween around the neighborhood for the last couple of months, with bogeymen dropping out of the trees (and) accusations being made."

In a written statement, Sports Authority president Eric Hart said "certain individuals have now resorted to making threats to TSA personnel and their families, citing their personal residences and making obscene comments toward TSA personnel via emails and social media."

One email, from a sender who signed her first name, asked Hart, "What would your stance be if this chemical were being applied" on his street, listing it by name. Another email, sent anonymously, said, "Karma can kill, just like curfew. Worth the chance? Think about your loved ones."

Police are aware of the emails.

"So far, what we have seen does not rise to the level where we would consider pressing charges," said police spokesman Steve Hegarty.

Lawson and other Forest Hills residents said in an email that they didn't have anything to do with the communications turned over to police.

"Nothing related to harassment, violence or illegality has ever appeared on the Green Cities Alliance website, nor would it be tolerated," Lawson said. And to the best of their knowledge "there has not been anything of that nature posted" on Facebook or Nextdoor social media sites.

Lawson said the only threat he knows of came from a man who told him that if the grass at the golf course died because Curfew wasn't applied, then he and several others would want to have a talk with Lawson "up close."

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