Understanding Pesticide Risks
Via the EPA
Many people believe that some pesticides are safe, while others are dangerous. Actually, the words "safe" and "dangerous" are misleading. Any chemical, including any pesticide, can pose risks to people, pets, or the environment. Understanding pesticide risk will help you take steps to minimize it.
The risk of a pesticide depends on two things, exposure (how much?) and toxicity (how poisonous?). The exposure is the amount you get in or on your body, or the amount that is released into the environment. The toxicity of a pesticide is measure of how poisonous it is to people or the environment.
Even products that are low in toxicity can be hazardous if the exposure is high enough. This is the basis for the argument that, "the dose makes the poison." For example, one aspirin is beneficial for pain or certain medical conditions, but too much aspirin could be very hazardous. As the amount of exposure (the dose) increases, so does the risk.
Pesticides often contain more than one ingredient, and each one may have a different toxicity. One easy way to estimate the toxicity of a pesticide product is to look at the signal word.
Most pesticides will have either the word CAUTION, WARNING, or DANGER on the label, and that signal word reflects the toxicity of the product:
CAUTION represents the lower toxicity products
WARNING indicates medium toxicity products
DANGER stands for the highest toxicity products
Our page on Minimizing Pesticide Risks provides more information on how to reduce pesticide risks.
Because "the dose makes the poison," someone may get sick from exposure to just about anything if their exposure is high enough. The risk of experiencing health problems from a pesticide depends on the toxicity of the pesticide and the amount ofexposure. Even very low toxicity pesticides can be hazardous if too much is inhaled, gets on the skin, or is ingested. Minimizing the amount of pesticide used, selecting lower toxicity products and using protective equipment to minimize your exposure can all help to minimize the hazards associated with using pesticides.
Tips for Minimizing Pesticide Risks:
- Consider adopting an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach. This approach emphasizes prevention, sanitation and exclusion, and utilizes pesticides only as a last resort when other options have failed.
- Review the product signal word and active ingredients, and then choose the product lowest in toxicity. Call NPIC for help comparing products.
- Choose products with formulations least likely to lead to exposure.
- Read the product label first. The pesticide label will list the minimum amount of protective equipment, like gloves or goggles, necessary to reduce your exposure.
- Consider using additional protective equipment to decrease your exposure even further.
- Make sure the pesticide label lists the specific place you intend to use the product. Using a pesticide in unlisted locations is illegal and unsafe.
- Use the appropriate amount of pesticide for your job by following the label directions closely. Applying too much pesticide may lead to higher levels of exposure to people, pets and the environment.
- Avoid allowing children, pets, or sensitive people in treatment areas to prevent accidental exposures during pesticide applications.
- Consider staying out of treated areas after an application for the amount of time listed on the label directions.
- For liquid products, consider avoiding treated areas until they have dried thoroughly and the area has been ventilated.
- Consider keeping pets and children off treated lawns and gardens until granular pesticides have dissolved.
- Ensure items such as food, toys, pet bowls and clothing are stored a safe distance away from any pesticide treatment.
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