Pesticides: Can We Do Without Them?
A case study modified by:
Department of Natural Resources and the Environment
University of Connecticut
Case originally authored by:
Laurie A. Parendes
Department of Geosciences
Edinboro University of Pennsylvania
Scott H. Burris
Department of Agricultural Education
University of Missouri—Columbia
(Accessed from the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, University at Buffalo, State University of New York)
Part I—The Meeting
Sam Waters anxiously awaited the start of the county commission meeting. This would be his first official responsibility as a newly elected county commissioner. Little did he know when he won the November election that his first meeting would have such significant consequences for the residents of Tolland County, Connecticut. As people began to enter the conference room, these implications became all too real.
Sam recognized many of the faces in the room. John Shakely, the state Commissioner of Agriculture, obviously was there to represent the diverse local farming community, which included both moderate and small operations. Commissioner Shakely and Sam had one thing in common: they had both recently been elected to their positions. Sam also recognized others from various political events, including Susan Fletcher, president of the local homeowner’s association, and Josh Martin from the Tolland County office of the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS). He quickly picked out Terry Halleran in the room as well. Terry was president of the local chapter of the Sierra Club and was very passionate for his cause. There were also unfamiliar faces in the room, but from the pamphlets left on the table near the sign-in sheet, it was apparent that there were people representing the horticulture industry, the golf course industry, and the local farmer’s market cooperative.
As everyone began to take their places, silence fell over the room. Commissioner Grant, chairman of the commission, began the proceedings: “Good morning and welcome to the county commission meeting. As you know, today is the final hearing prior todeciding if we will ban pesticide use in Tolland County.”
Part II—The Testimony
Even though the commission had met numerous times to discuss this issue, Sam remained undecided about how he would vote on the ban of pesticides. His colleagues, however, seemed to be more certain of their own positions in the matter. Commissioner Harris had repeatedly stated her concerns about the fate of the county-owned public golf course, which the high schools all use for their practices. According to Harris, the maintenance and care of the facilities would be unmanageable without the assistance of pesticides. This enterprise would certainly become a financial drain for the county. Commissioner Smith, on the other hand, was firm on his position to ban pesticide use in the county. Smith was still mourning the loss of his beloved wife, Margaret, who had recently died of cancer.
With the other two commissioners firmly split on the issue, Sam realized that he held the deciding vote. He felt the weight of his responsibility and hoped that today’s testimony would give him the confidence to make the right decision. Commissioner Grant continued, “Before we make our final ruling, we have several stakeholders who would like to speak….”
… As the meeting approached the two-hour mark, Sam was furiously trying to process the information that had been presented. Ag Commissioner Shakely clearly indicated that agricultural producers in the county would definitely be affected, the biggest crop in the county was annual flowering plants like mums, and pest outbreaks could wipe-out local farmers. Also, the apple orchards spray occasionally to control pests, and the apple orchards are community treasures that feed the growing local foods movement and are anchors at the farmer’s markets in the county. But that argument was countered by Josh Martin’s NRCS report of pesticide persistence and movement in the environment based on studies conducted by his colleagues in the agency, the federal government seems to have a lot of data that pesticides are harmful to the environment. Susan Fletcher argued passionately that homeowners had the right to protect and preserve their property from pests, and termites are a big concern for homeowners in the region; without the pesticide treatments around foundations, houses will be attacked. Susan continued that these were not the 1960s; new pesticides had passed EPA evaluation and were not as bad as others were making them out. In fact, most homeowners in Connecticut would find it very hard to understand why they could no longer protect the family pet from tick-borne diseases like Lyme and anaplasma. Mr. Baldwin followed Susan with data about how employment would be affected by the ban. Dr. Sherman Wiles spoke knowledgeably about the harmful levels of pesticides found in people. Dr. Kris Joudeki, a well-known ornithologist, revisited the warning sounded by Rachel Carson in her book Silent Spring.
As the last two speakers prepared their comments, Sam was no closer to a decision than he was at the beginning of the day. Dr. Mickey Delaney took the floor and said, “The county health department is concerned that a ban on pesticides could create a health care crisis that we are not prepared to handle.” A complete ban of pesticides would prohibit the sales of the many consumer products that are treated for bacteria prior to sale, with the alternative products there are risks of contamination. It is true that the bill would create a list of pesticides that would be exempted from the ban- such as has been done with similar laws elsewhere. But exactly which pesticides will get exempted seems to be a fuzzy issue and is described in the law as a ‘living list’ that will be modified as new scientificresearch and alternatives are revealed. One thing is clear, most if not all of the commonly used home lawn and turf herbicides, agricultural chemicals, and generally available insecticides (bug sprays) will be banned.
Finally, Terry Halleranof the Sierra Club made his way to the microphone.He had apparently wanted to speak last “Folks, we are caught in a vicious cycle. What works on pests yesterday, doesn’t work today. What works today, won’t work tomorrow. We must break this cycle! Human beings existed for thousands and thousands of years without these poisons; life will get better not worse without them.”
For the in-class activity associated with this case, your class will be tasked with addressing the following;
To prepare, please read the online supporting materials and come to discussion section ready to participate in small workgroups tasked with aspects of the above four items.
define the terms “pest” and “pesticide” and give specific examples;
discuss benefits and harmful effects of pesticide use;
discuss implications of banning pesticides; and
articulate the dilemmas underlying this case, including the ecological, ethical, sociopolitical and economic issues involved
ATTN: WRITER–The information described below will inform you on what you need to write about.
Part III—Written Case Resolution
As the meeting was called to a close, Sam felt the anxiety creep over his body. He knew it was time to cast his vote. Commissioner Grant announced, “The issue before us is whether to ban the use of pesticides in Tolland County. We will vote next meeting by roll call. Sam, I know you are new to this, but next time we vote on this issue, up or down.”
Fortunately, Sam has two weeks to get his head straight. He quickly called his favorite professor from college days gone by, Dr. Vokoun. Go Huskies, and besides UCONN is in Tolland County. He asked Dr. Vokoun if he could help him sort out the issues and ethics involved in the case. It would help if he had some considered, well-thought documents to read, he thought. Dr. Vokoun jumped at the chance to enlist his current crop of talented students to help with the task.
Hence, you are to write your case resolution to advise Tolland County Commissioner Sam Waters how to vote: yes to ban pesticides, no to continue to allow their usage.
Within a maximum limit of four typed pages (no exceptions on page length) please provide a statement that outlines your consideration of the salient features of the issue.
Within your case resolution you must address, but are not limited to, the following items;
As a society, can we do without pesticides?
What are the ethical dilemmas that Sam faces as he makes his decision?
Considering economic, social, and political issues, how would a pesticide ban affect the county?
Your concluding paragraph should summarize your thought process and clearly indicate whether you intend to vote yes for banning pesticide usage in Tolland County, CT or no to continue to allow pesticide usage.
NOTE: The issues outlined above are generally stated in broad terms not necessarily specific to the case study topic; I have provided fewer specifics about the issues on purpose to force you to think about the case on your own. Do not interpret the lack of specifics provided as a reason to write a similarly general resolution- you are tasked with resolving the case at hand, so you must be specific. Do not simply answer the above questions with generalities. You need to demonstrate that you understand the complexities of the case and have arrived at a considered, carefully examined resolution. A well written resolution will consider multiple viewpoints on different sides of the issues using the specifics of the case study. Consider the scientific information where appropriate to understand the context and background of the issue, acknowledge the multiple interpretations and viewpoints presented, and apply your personal values and ethics towards the end decision to ultimately vote yes or no.