Green Thumbs Up at CUA

by Carol Casey

Things are very green on CUA's campus these days and not just because it's been a rainy spring. The parklike look that students, faculty, birds and squirrels love is being sustained with fewer chemicals, thanks to Chris Vetick, assistant director of grounds, and Kelly Scanlon, industrial hygienist in the campus's Department of Environmental Health and Safety. That good news has just earned CUA recognition by the Environmental Protection Agency.

In the EPA's online Catalog of Best Management Practices, Catholic University is cited for its policy of integrated pest management or IPM, which aims to reduce the quantity of pesticides used on campus and provide economical and effective pest suppression with the least possible hazard to people, property and the environment. Other institutions that come up for praise in the EPA catalog are Yale, Harvard, Cornell, Boston University, Ohio University, the University of Massachusetts, the University of North Carolina, the Rhode Island School of Design, Bates College, Colby College, Middlebury College and the University of Vermont. For details, consult the Web site http://www.epa.gov/ne/assistance/univ/bmpcasestudies.html.


Kelly Scanlon and Chris Vetick

Catholic University also recently received a Certificate of Partnership from the EPA's Green Power Partnership. This was given for reduction in emissions associated with power generation and for the procurement of "green" power, particularly energy generated by wind. In addition, the National Wildlife Federation has recognized the campus as an environmentally green campus because of CUA's recycling and energy conservation.

Scanlon says the move to IPM began about three years ago when she came to work at CUA. "One of the first things on my to-do list was to respond to a CUA student who had health concerns about pesticides used on campus," Scanlon says. A physician's diagnosis confirmed that the student was sensitive to multiple chemicals, especially pesticides.

Scanlon realized that if there was one chemically sensitive person on campus, there were probably others. She recommended that pesticides and other chemicals be applied more judiciously, not only to address such sensitivity but also to reduce the overall amount of hazardous materials in use on campus. CUA's program has been good for everyone's health, but it also has meant decreased outlay for chemicals and decreased costs to manage hazardous materials.

Chris Vetick came to CUA in 2000 from Georgetown University, where IPM was practiced. He helped write the policies and procedures for the IPM program at Catholic University and set the program up. He says the program has two main components: plants and people. "A key component of the program is ensuring that campus plants are healthy through proper placement, good care and plenty of water," Vetick says. "Also, we use native plants that can flourish in the extreme conditions we have here in D.C." Healthy plants are better able to resist insect infestations and diseases.

But even the healthiest plants may need occasional treatment with chemicals. Vetick's program opts for using environmentally safe chemicals that break down quickly after they're applied. To ensure that those chemicals are applied properly, members of CUA's grounds crew must become certified pest applicators. "This requirement actually exceeds what the law stipulates," says Vetick, who has been certified as a horticulturist and arborist through the Maryland Nurserymen's Association and the International Society of Arboriculture, completed the woody plants program from the George Washington University Landscape Design Program and finished advanced training in IPM from the University of Maryland’s Cooperative Extension Service. To become a certified pest applicator requires passing formal and practical tests and taking a written examination.

Vetick also wants to empower grounds crew members to become more deeply knowledgeable about landscaping. They can become team leaders through training and certification offered by the Landscape Contractors Association. To achieve this designation requires a full day of completing 15 to 24 landscaping exercises; taking a plant identification test that includes knowledge of plant tolerances to sun, shade, wet or dry conditions; and testing in pruning techniques and safe operation of equipment such as chain saws.

"This is tremendous for the people on the crew," Vetick says. "They can begin to make decisions based on their own knowledge."

Putting IPM into practice on CUA's campus can be challenging, he says. "We have a lot of land here with a lot of different types of plantings and levels of use — from the athletic fields, which get a lot of tough use, to the mall, where we want a green lawn that's safe for little children to play on and students to sit on.”

Children are the most vulnerable to pesticides. "They play on the floor and lawn where pesticides are commonly applied and their bodies may not be able to rid them of pesticides as quickly because of their immature excretory systems," wrote Vetick in the campus case study for the EPA posted at http://www.epa.gov/ne/assistance/univ/pdfs/bmps/CatholicUnivIPM.pdf.

The IPM program is used inside buildings as well. "IPM programs consider the life cycles of pests and manage damage with a commonsense approach," says Scanlon. "To be successful demands close observation of a problem and a rational decision about what to do about it. Remember the days when we would 'bomb' the house to get rid of one pest? Everything in the house would die! We want to move away from that to a targeted approach. So, for example, if ants have come into a building, we want to find out how they got in, and stop others before they get there by plugging up holes or storing food better."

Another part of the IPM equation, Scanlon says, is tolerance: "If you see a bug or a weed, don't take out the chemical spray. Of course, you can always call facilities management for advice or to place a work order. A certified pesticide contractor will respond and investigate."

And although those Americans who are enamored of a green carpet of lawn may cringe, Scanlon suggests, "Maybe dandelions aren't so bad after all."