UMass discusses concerns about spraying on River Road

  • The Turf Research and Education Center at 23 River Road in Deerfield.  FILE PHOTO

  • The Turf Research and Education Center at 23 River Road in Deerfield.  FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 1/27/2019 9:51:51 PM

DEERFIELD — Representatives from the University of Massachusetts Amherst attended this week’s Board of Health meeting to address public concerns regarding the spraying of chemicals at the Joseph Troll Turf Research Center in South Deerfield.

In the fall, the university assured the public the chemicals sprayed around its fields are safe and applied in a considerate way. Joe Shoenfeld, the associated director of UMass’ Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment, said he and his university colleagues will review the public feedback and return to address the Board of Health, which is also the Deerfield Select Board.

At the Sept. 24 meeting, Select Board member Carolyn Shores Ness said she had been approached weeks earlier by residents complaining about the spraying at the 23 River Road facility, and she made a motion to direct the town to request from UMass the health and safety information about the substances or chemicals the facility is using and a description of future plans.

James Poro, superintendent of the research center, explained he sometimes wears a yellow protective suit when he sprays, but he said wearing it goes “above and beyond what is required.”

Poro and Shoenfeld were joined by Michelle DaCosta, associate professor of turfgrass physiology at UMass’ Stockbridge School of Agriculture, Robert Skalbite, farm manager at the Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment, and Tony Maroulis, executive director of external relations and university events.

Shoenfeld said UMass is very proud of the facility, which he said is nationally renowned. He said the focus is management of turf used on public grounds and playing fields, not home lawns. Shoenfeld said the facility’s 18 acres are overseen in a professional manner, though he acknowledged that “we do understand that the unknown can be concerning.”

DaCosta, who joined the faculty in 2006, said she studies how plants respond to different stresses. She said five other faculty members are also active in research at the facility. Much of the work involves trying to identify which grasses require little to no water or pesticides. DaCosta said the UMass facility is one of the best in the country for that type of research. She added that the turfgrass industry has an economic impact of $11 billion in New England.

Select Board member Carolyn Shores Ness acknowledged that facility staff members likely take wind into account, but she said wind directions can change suddenly and without warning. She asked if it was possible to put hangers on abutting homes’ doorknobs 24 hours in advance of any spraying. Ness also said she would like there to be no spraying when winds are more than 3 to 5 mph.

Skalbite said the facility plans to hold an open house in the spring, though a date has not yet been picked.

Hannah Yaffe, who said she lives at abutting 5 Beaver Road, said she is very concerned, because she is a landscaper and gardener and often puts her hands in the soil that sprayed chemicals may have touched.

Ralph “Rocky” Foley told the UMass representatives he wants them aware of a nearby eagles nest while Bob Maynard said he wants to learn about the long-term effects of the sprayings.

David “Bud” Driver said he and his wife have lived in the neighborhood, which he said is called Mountain View Estates, and was never concerned about the spraying until recently.

Mary Dettloff, deputy director for the Office of News and Media Relations at UMass, previously said the turf research facility conducts about 70 sprayings a year. She said the chemicals are typically pesticides or herbicides used mainly to curb the spread of weeds, so they will not interfere with research on different types of grass. According to information on the research center’s webpage, research is conducted on pest management, turf use, environmental impacts, best management practices and non-biotic stresses, such as heat, cold and traffic.

Detloff said researchers are careful never to spray while children are waiting at a nearby school bus stop. She also said staff are mindful of wind directions, and Occupational Safety and Health Administration requirements are always met.

Ness said residents told her they saw researchers using “hazmat suits,” but Detloff said this is untrue, as the facility’s staffers need only yellow chemical-resistant suits equipped with ventilators — the kind Poro described.

The facility is named after the late Dr. Joseph Troll, a pioneer in turfgrass management and a longtime leader in the Turf Program at UMass.

The center consists of 18 acres and includes a 3,000-square-foot structure that houses offices, lab space, meeting rooms, small classrooms and storage and space for equipment maintenance. Anyone with concerns about the sprayings is welcome to talk with the facility’s staff, Detloff said.


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