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Ban on weed-killer to hit golfing hard

Published:Monday | December 9, 2013 | 12:00 AM
Chai Chong

Ryon Jones, Staff Reporter

The cost of operating golf courses locally is set to take a massive jump, as operators will have to pay far more to control weeds given the pending ban on the chemical they currently use to do so, monosodium methyl arsenate (MSMA).

MSMA is an arsenic-based herbicide and fungicide which has been widely used by golf course operators for years both locally and abroad.

However, several countries have taken steps to ban the weed killer in recent years due to the presence of the toxic chemical element arsenic and the potential harm it can have on the environment.

"Almost all other pesticides eventually breakdown due to bacteria action, sunlight, water and so on, but arsenic will always be there," registrar of the Pesticide Control Authority (PCA), Michael Ramsay, informed. "So if they spray that arsenic on the golf courses that arsenic is going to be there accumulating year after year and spray after spray."

MSMA was banned by the PCA in 2011, but the ban was suspended for two years to give the course operators time to find suitable alternatives.

"Even though it has been banned, the golf course people have been given an allocation for the past two years and they will get another allocation next year," Ramsay revealed. "So they have been given special treatment in that they are allowed to continue purchasing and using it (MSMA)."

President of the Jamaica Golf Association, Wayne Chai Chong, is pushing for the ban to be reconsidered, as studies are inconclusive on the dangers of the herbicide, and the cost of alternative chemicals is expensive.

Some studies have suggested that because the arsenic is bound up in an organic form, it is not as poisonous as the inorganic form. But the argument has also been advanced that over time, as the organic form builds up, it will end up being poisonous.


"To date we have not been able to have imported into the island the required chemicals to replace MSMA and have not really been able to find suitable alternatives," Chai Chong said. "We were given two extensions to the ban, but we need to find a long-term solution, because it is not affordable for the golf courses at this point in time."

According to Chai Chong, three chemicals have been identified that if used together can do the same job as MSMA.

"Each one of those cost at least three times as much as MSMA, so you're talking at least 10 times as much in raw material cost," Chai Chong outlined. "And then you have to apply each one separately, so the cost of the application triples for you as well."

Chai Chong is contending that if the ban is not rescinded or a cheaper alternative found the quality of the courses on offer to local players and travelling golfers will significantly depreciate.

Ramsey, however, counters that the threat to the environment and lives - if arsenic seeps into the underground water supply - far outweigh whatever additional money operators will have to fork out.