Pesticide safety

by Stephanie Suesan Smith on July 7, 2010

Pesticides always seem to be in the news, and they are never portrayed favorably.  While it is certainly true that reducing the amount of pesticides used benefits the environment, some use is necessary if we wish to have food, safe homes, and healthy families.  It is possible to use pesticides responsibly and safely by following some guidelines.

First, some definitions.  Anything that has an EPA number on the bottle is a pesticide.  Pesticide is an umbrella term that includes germicides, herbicides, rodenticides, insecticides, and fungicides.  It includes other things, too, but those are the most common.  People tell me they do not use pesticides because they are bad for the environment.  When I ask them if they clean their house with a product that kills germs, they always say yes.  That is a pesticide, just as much as agent orange or DDT.  Every year children are killed when they drink household cleaners, too.

There are two classes of pesticides:  restricted and unrestricted.  To buy a restricted pesticide, you must have a pesticide license.  You have to take a class on pesticide safety and laws and pass a test to get the license.  Then you have to attend 15 CEUs over 5 years to renew the license.  This is primarily for farmers and ranchers or professional pest control people.  It doesn’t hurt homeowners to have the license, but it isn’t necessary, either.

Unrestricted pesticides are the kind you can buy at any store to kill ants, bugs, weeds, and germs.  There is some very important information on the label of a pesticide.  The label is the law.  If you use a pesticide in a way that is not on the label, you can be fined or even jailed, especially if someone got hurt.  Generally, someone sprays a herbicide too close to the neighbor’s property and kills their plants, and the neighbor reports them.  The EPA and the Department of Agriculture get involved, and that is a bad deal.  So follow the directions on the label.

It is important to mix the product as directed.  More is not better.  It is just more dangerous.  Be sure to wear the appropriate clothing when using a pesticide.  Shorts and sandals are not appropriate.  Long pants, long sleeves, closed toed shoes, and sometimes a dust mask or respirator are appropriate.  Make sure when you are through and have cleaned your equipment, you strip at the door and go shower.  Then wash those clothes separate from anything else to make sure you do not get any pesticide residue on other clothes.  Depending on the pesticide, double washing may be necessary.

The other mistake people make is not observing the let off period.  For example, you put done a pesticide in the backyard, or someone does.  You are supposed to wait 24 hours before you use the yard.  You forget and let the dog out to go potty.  The dog not only is exposed to the pesticide, but gets it on his fur.  He comes in and your child plays with the dog.  Now both of them have pesticide on them, and spread it every where they touch.  The whole family gets sick, and the dog may die.  Pay attention.  That stuff is on the label for a reason.

If something does happen and someone gets sick or ingests a pesticide, call poison control immediately.  Make sure you have the label of the product that the person ingested or was exposed to.  They can tell you what to do and can contact the ER if necessary with the antidote information.

Safety articles always talk about worse case scenarios.  Most people use pesticides safely and responsibly and never have a problem.  However, the information is like taking a CPR course — every one hopes you never need it, but if you do, it may save a life.  So, what information about using pesticides have I left out?  What questions do you have on the topic?

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