A variety of pesticides are used in USA in agricultural, non-production agriculture and urban environments. People use insecticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers to stop insects and weeds from thriving in their gardens or buildings, but these have the potential to harm our health and the environment. Any rational approach to pesticide use should include a risk-benefit comparison. Pesticides, by nature, are risky, but their benefits are real and easily taken for granted. Just as the benefits of pesticides are real, so are the risks. Misuse of pesticides and accidents involving pesticides constantly occur. And even when used correctly, some pesticides can harm the environment and non-targeted living things. The purpose of this chapter is to explain the nature of pesticides, their history, their benefits, their risks, the regulations in place to ensure their responsible use, and current trends in their use.
What is a Pesticide?
People often think pesticide means "insecticide". Actually pesticide refers to many different kinds of chemicals that are intended to control, destroy, repel, or attract a pest. Pests can be animals (insects, mice or deer), unwanted plants (weeds), or micro- organisms (plant and human diseases). Many pesticides are found around the home. These include bleach, ammonia, and may household cleaners as well as ant and roach sprays and baits, no-pest strips, and mosquito repellent. We even use pesticides on our pets in the form of flea and tick collars, powders, and shampoos. A pesticide is any substance or mixture of substances intended for preventing, destroying, repelling, or mitigating any pest.
Types of Pesticides
Though often misunderstood to refer only to insecticides, the term pesticide also applies to herbicides, fungicides, and various other substances used to control pests.
Under United States law, a pesticide is also any substance or mixture of substances intended for use as a plant regulator, defoliant, or desiccant.
Is there any ideal Pesticide?
"Ideally, any pesticide that will act rapidly on pests yet be completely harmless to people, domestic animals, wildlife, and other aspects of the environment. Its residues would last only as long as was necessary to create the desired effect, usually for very short periods. It would also be inexpensive and readily available in necessary quantity, chemically stable (before application), non-flammable, and otherwise, safe to use around homes or industrial sites. It would be easily prepared and applied, no corrosive, and non-staining, and it would have no undesirable odor." (Truman's Scientific Guide to Pest Control Operations, ISBN 0-929870-45-X). Unfortunately, no such ideal pesticide exists!
What substances are not regulated as Pesticides?
The U.S. definition of pesticides is quite broad, but it does have some exclusion:
Drugs used to control diseases of humans or animals (such as livestock and pets) are not considered pesticides; the Food and Drug Administration regulate such drugs.
Fertilizers, nutrients, and other substances used to promote plant survival and health are not considered plant growth regulators and thus are not pesticides.
EPA exempts biological control agents, except for certain microorganisms, from regulation. (Biological control agents include beneficial predators such as birds or ladybugs that eat insect pests.)
Sources of Pesticide Profiles
Pesticide Label & Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS)
Recognition and Management of Pesticide Poisonings
This is a free online version of a physician manual produced by EPA. It contains detailed information about toxicity of pesticides, symptoms of over-exposure, and recommendations for treating acute illnesses related to pesticides.
National Library of Medicine Toxicology Network
This is a cluster of somewhat technical databases of toxicology of hazardous substances. The Hazardous Substances Data Bank (HSDB
) has information on a number of pesticides. This site also has links to Medline
for searching scientific journals for studies about chemicals.
California Poison Action Line 1-800-222-1222 or CPCS 1-800-876-4766
The California Poison Control System (CPCS) is the statewide provider of immediate, free and expert treatment advice and assistance over the telephone in case of exposure to poisonous, hazardous or toxic substances. The CPCS is accessible toll-free, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Pharmacists, physicians, nurses, and poison information providers answer the phones. Calling us can prevent a trip to the emergency room. The Poison Action Line at 1-800-876-4766 is FAST, FREE and PRIVATE.
The National Poison Control Hotline
was established to respond to emergency calls from concerned citizens about poison prevention. 1-800-222-1222 (emergency only); 202-362-3867 (for administrative and materials requests); 202-362-8563 (TDD)
: Provides information to the general public and health care providers about health and environmental toxicity of pesticides. Emphasis on objective, science-based information. Provides service in English and Spanish.
State & Regional Poison Control Centers
This page provides access to phone numbers and addresses for regional and state poison control centers. Please contact the centers in case of emergency, or for poison prevention information.
Information on Pesticide Waste Disposal
Pesticide Safety Education
Pesticide Safety Information Series
- CA DPR Worker Health and Safety Branch developed Pesticide Safety Information Series (PSIS) leaflets primarily as a training aid for employees.
Purdue Pesticide Information
- These publications are written for professionals who work in government, universities, associations, and also for the general public who want to understand pesticide issues beyond the headlines.
WPS Training for Fieldworkers: Teaching Workers How to Protect Themselves from Pesticide Hazards in the Workplace
Reducing Pesticide Risks: An Interactive Program for Training Pesticide Handlers
Pesticide Applicator Instructor's Handbook, 4th edition
Pesticide Safety: A Reference Manual for Private Applicators
Pesticide Safety for Small Farms: A Grower's Guide to Pesticide Safety
Virtual Pesticide Safety Education Institute
- This digital site was created and is maintained by Virginia Tech Pesticide Programs, a unit of the Department of Entomology and Virginia Cooperative Extension at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University in Blacksburg, Virginia, USA.