At recent LeRoy community forums, a number of parents voiced concerns about a rust-colored substance that they say is pretty common on the athletic fields at the high school. Many wondered if it could be what's making their kids sick.
We went to Cornell Cooperative Extension to get some answers.
"You can see these little orange fruiting structures here, and that's what's on the grass,” said Liz Berkeley, a horticulture educator and plant and insect diagnostician.
We asked Berkeley the question raised by parents. Could this substance be ergot, a toxic fungus that some historians believe is responsible for giving women tic-like symptoms 500 to 600 years ago. In that age, the women were branded as witches.
“Not at all, not at all. There are certain grasses in the turf that do have a rust disease and that's what you're seeing are the spores of that rust disease, but ergot is not rust colored at all,” said Berkeley.
“It really has a black fruiting structure of flower of the cereal ryegrass,” Berkeley continued.
Berkeley said the rust is not toxic.
“Not at all, and rust is a lot different. Rust diseases are different than fungal diseases,” she said. “You know, it doesn't even kill the grass."
Berkeley said even if the ergot fungus was present, it would have to be ingested to be a problem, and in her 15 years she said she has never seen the fungus get into the local food chain. She said government and industry inspections of the cereal ryegrass are pretty stringent.