General Pesticide Information
The information posted on this page provides information about various pesticide safety related issues and topics. Pesticide safety is a multi-faceted subject which covers issues such as integrated pest management (IPM), pesticide selection, pesticide risks to the environment and human health, storage, disposal and equipment maintenance. These and other related topics will be discussed throughout this website.
What is a pesticide?
The term “pesticide” is often only applied to products such as insect or weed killers. The term actually applies to a much broader group of substances which prevent, destroy, repel, or mitigate a number of organisms such as animals, insects, weeds, fungi, algae, bacterium, and viruses. The term pesticide also includes substances which act as plant regulators, defoliants or desiccants. In order to use pesticides safely, people must recognize what they are and where they are used. To learn more, visit the What is a Pesticide? page of this website.
Where are pesticides used?
Not only do pesticides cover a broad group of substances, they are used on a diverse number of sites. Most people are aware that pesticides are used in and around the home both indoors and outdoors to control insects or weeds. They might also be aware that many of the fruits and vegetables purchased from the store have been treated with pesticides to protect them from insect damage. Other common uses around the home include the use of disinfectants to control organisms such as bacteria and viruses. In addition to these, there are a number of other uses of pesticides which are less obvious. These uses include:
- Fabrics and other accessories may be treated during manufacturing to help repel mosquitoes or ticks when they’re worn by people.
- Pesticides may be mixed with plastics, paints or adhesives to control or prevent organisms such as bacteria and fungi (molds and mildews).
- Pipes may be treated with antimicrobial pesticides to protect against sludge and slime buildup.
- The combs and brushes used by barbers and beauticians are treated with disinfectants to protect customers.
- Many of the chemicals used in pools, spas and hot tubs are pesticides which prevent algae, bacteria and other microorganisms.
- Pesticides are used to control organisms such as algae, aiptasia and flatworms in aquariums.
- Animal care products used to control fleas, ticks and mites are insecticides. While many of these products are labeled for use on cats or dogs, there are some which are labeled for other small animals such as birds, hamsters, reptiles, and rabbits as well.
- Some livestock (e.g., a horse) feed supplements contain pesticides which prevent fly larvae from hatching in the manure. These pesticides pass through the digestive system along with other waste and remain active in the manure.
- Wildlife management programs may use birth control products which are registered pesticides to manage deer or bird populations.
- The rooting hormones used for propagating plant cuttings are pesticides even though they are used to promote plant growth. Remember that a plant regulator is also considered a pesticide.
- Building materials such as wood decking components may have been treated with pesticides prior to installation to prevent decay.
While these are just a few examples of other pesticide uses and application sites, they show the variety of places where pesticides may be encountered. Perhaps as you read it, you might realize that you are handling pesticides without realizing it. Learn to identify pesticide products by reading the What is a pesticide? page. If an item you’re handling has been treated with a pesticide, determine what if any steps are necessary to protect yourself from pesticidal residues by reading material provided by the manufacturer. For treated wood or paint products, this would involve, at a minimum, washing your hands with soap and water after contact.
Integrated Pest Management
Integrated pest management (IPM) is a set of management techniques that involves proper pest identification and the evaluation of all management options including nonchemical solutions. By applying IPM to managing a pest infestation, the need for pesticides will either be reduced or eliminated. To learn more, visit the Integrated Pest Management page of this website.
Determining How Much Pesticide to Purchase and Use
If a little pesticide is good, then a lot is better. No statement could be further from the truth. Over-application of pesticides is a risky practice that both homeowners and professionals should avoid. It is important to know how much pesticide you will need prior to purchasing the products and during applications.
- Measuring Your Yard Pamphlet (DCR)
- Calculating the Correct Amount (Pesticide Environmental Stewardship)
Equipment Maintenance and Safety
Maintaining pesticide equipment reduces risks by preventing inadvertent spills or leaks and by regulating the quantity of pesticides being applied. Applicators need to clean and examine equipment following use. They also need to perform regular calibrations so they’ll know the rate at which a pesticide is being applied. To learn more about this topic read the Equipment Maintenance and Safety page of this website.
Reading and Understanding the Pesticide Label
One of the most important steps in using a pesticide safely is reading, understanding and following the label that accompanies the product. A number of pesticide incidents occur as a result of someone not taking the time to read the pesticide label and follow the safety precautions and use directions.
- Understanding Pesticide Labels (Virginia Cooperative Extension)
- Read the Label First (EPA)
- How to Read the Label (Pesticide Environmental Stewardship)
- Understanding the Pesticide Label (University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension)
The risk associated with a pesticide depends on several factors including toxicity and exposure. When pesticides are used, applicators need to consider how to protect themselves, other people, pets and the environment from exposure to pesticide residues. In some cases, pesticides such as insect repellents are applied directly to skin to protect people from disease-carrying vectors such as ticks and mites. In these cases, exposure is unavoidable but is prescribed on the product label.
- Understanding Pesticide Risks (NPIC)
- Overview of Risk Assessment (EPA)
- Toxicity of Pesticides (Pesticide Safety Education Program (PSEP), Cornell University Cooperative Extension)-Module 4 of PSEP's Pesticide Applicator Core Tutorial discusses the toxicity of pesticides and how it is measured.
Pesticide Storage and Transport
Storing pesticides properly will protect your family, home and environment. One of the most important aspects of pesticide storage is keeping pesticides out of children’s reach by storing pesticides in a locked storage area. Other issues include ventilation, heat, shelf life and storage in transport. Refer to the pesticide label for product specific storage information.
- Homeowners: Storing Pesticides Safely (EPA)
- Storing Pesticides Safely (Virginia Cooperative Extension)
- Store Pesticides Safely (Pesticide Environmental Stewardship)
- Transporting Pesticides (Pesticide Environmental Stewardship)
Pesticide and Container Disposal
Consumers should be careful to only purchase the amount of pesticides necessary to manage current pest infestations. Even when this advice is followed, homeowners may end up with small quantities of unused pesticides after the infestations are managed. When pesticides accumulate and become unusable, they cannot be disposed of in the same manner as other household trash since they are considered hazardous substances. As hazardous substances, pesticides need to be carried to a hazardous waste collection site or facility. Some municipalities may offer hazardous waste collection sites or hold annual hazardous waste collections.
Pesticide labels will provide specific information about how to properly dispose of unused products and/or the empty container. Empty pesticide containers or packages can often be disposed of with other household trash in accordance with label directions. Labels on containers of liquid formulations will require that they be rinsed out after the last use (triple rinse).
For general information about how to safely dispose of unusable products or empty containers, visit the websites provided below.
- Safe Disposal of Pesticides (EPA)
- Pesticide and Container Disposal (Pesticide Environmental Stewardship)
As a service to the citizens of Virginia, the Office of Pesticide Services collects unused pesticides during special collection events throughout the state of Virginia. The program currently moves to different regions each year on a 5-year cycle. To learn more about this program and when it will be available in your area visit the following website: