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Pesticide Handling and Safety

By Karen Stretch, Regional Editor






Read the label of any pesticide (the generic term for insecticides, herbicides and fungicides) before opening a container or beginning any kind of pesticide handling activity. Pesticide products are classified as either “restricted use” or “general use.” All pesticide products that are restricted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must have a “restricted-use” statement on their label. Applicators using restricted-use pesticides must be certified or work under the supervision of a certified applicator, as these products are usually more toxic to humans and/or the environment than those that are classified as general use. Pesticide labeling contains precautions and instructions that must be followed to use the product safely and appropriately, and specific information concerning the task at hand. Be sure that you understand everything you need to know about the pesticide product before you are exposed to it.


You may have read the title of this article and considered skipping it altogether because you already know how to safely handle pesticides, right? But every now and then, it's good to get a little refresher course, if only to make you stop and think about the dangerous chemicals you're handling, or to pass the information along to a coworker.

I recently made the costly, $389 mistake of waiting too long to decide whether or not I had enough time to get through a yellow light before it turned red. I didn't have enough time to get through the light, but the officer on his motorcycle had perfect timing. He pulled me over, gave me a lecture, a ticket, and a one-way pass to traffic school. While sitting in class with the other reckless drivers and listening to the teacher go over the rules of the road, I sighed loudly and rued the day the cop who wrote me up got his badge. But after the class was over, I was actually more aware of my driving and thought about what I was doing instead of zoning out, listening to the radio, talking on my cell phone, or all of these activities at once. Of course I had been taught the rules of the road long ago in drivers ed. class, but they soon became a sort of faded second nature - they were ingrained somewhere in my mind and I followed them well enough to get by – aside from that pesky traffic ticket.

Do you see where I'm going with this? You know that you know how to handle pesticides safely, and I know that you know that too, but here's a little refresher article with information from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Integrated Pest Management (IPM). Try to keep the loud sighs to a minimum, please.




















According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 42,286 eye injuries in 2002, accounting for 70 percent of face injuries and nearly 47 percent of all head injuries requiring days away from work. If chemicals splash into a person's eyes, permanent damage can occur if steps are not taken to immediately flush the eyes out with water. Having an emergency eye wash kit on hand at all times is essential. It is a good idea to install an eye wash station in an area that is near, but separate, from the building where pesticides are stored. Signs clearly stating that the area is to be used only as an emergency eye wash area should be posted near the station.


Read the Label

It may seem obvious, but it is important to always read the label of any pesticide (the generic term for insecticides, herbicides and fungicides) before you open a container or begin any kind of pesticide handling activity. Pesticide labeling contains precautions and instructions that you must follow to use the product safely and appropriately, and specific information concerning the task at hand. Be sure that you understand everything you need to know about the pesticide product before you are exposed to it.

Always keep personal clothing, food, drinks, chewing gum, tobacco products, and other personal belongings away from where pesticides are stored or handled; they could become contaminated and poison or injure you when you use them. And besides, a sprinkling of herbicide on the turkey sandwich you brought for lunch would taste terrible.

When you take a break, wash your gloves on the outside, then remove your gloves and wash your hands and face thoroughly. Then you can safely chew gum, eat, drink, or smoke (is it ever safe to smoke?). Also, take the time to wash your hands thoroughly before using the toilet, and be careful not to contaminate yourself from pesticides that may be on the outside of your clothing.






This man should be wearing protective clothing while spraying chemicals. When working with any kind of pesticides, it is vitally important to wear protective clothing such as safety glasses, rubber gloves, long pants and long-sleeved shirts. When pesticides come into contact with exposed areas, eyes, or are inhaled, they can burn and damage skin, eyes and lungs; be aware that pesticide poisoning can occur without a person exhibiting any physical symptoms for quite some time. Every Superintendent should be aware of the signs of pesticide poisoning and have emergency kits on hand at all times.


Protective Clothing

Coming in contact with pesticides is no picnic. They can cause skin rashes or burns, go through your skin and into your body and make you ill, burn your eyes, or make you sick if they get into your mouth. Protect yourself not only during mixing, loading, and application, but also during spill cleanup, repairing or maintaining equipment, and when transporting, storing, or disposing of pesticide containers. You must use the personal protective equipment that the labeling requires. Wear work clothing that protects your body from pesticide residues such as long-sleeved shirts, long pants, shoes and socks. Try to avoid touching parts of the equipment where the pesticide is most likely to be and if practical for the job that you will be doing, wear gloves made of rubber or plastic and an apron. Make sure that the personal protective equipment is clean and in good operating condition.

Keep in mind that some pesticide formulations are more hazardous to people than others. Emulsifiable concentrates and ultra-low-volume concentrates often contain solvents that are hazardous themselves or that allow the pesticide to pass through the skin more quickly while aerosols are easily inhaled.

According to the National Ag Safety Database (NASD), there are four ways that pesticides can enter the body: through the skin, the mouth, the nose and the eyes. Pesticides can enter your body in solid, liquid or gaseous form. It is particularly important to remember that highly concentrated and highly toxic chemicals, especially liquids and gases, present the greatest danger. If they are not washed off immediately, the liquid concentrates can penetrate unbroken skin. The longer a pesticide remains on your skin or in your eyes, or the longer you inhale it, the greater the damage that is likely to occur. Protective clothing, such as coveralls, aprons, boots, gloves, goggles and face shields, and respirators provide protection against exposure to these chemicals.

Absorption through the skin is the most common form of poisoning. Absorption may occur from a splash, spill or drift when mixing, loading, applying, or disposing of pesticides. It may also result from exposure to large amounts of residue while cleaning out clogged nozzles and filter screens. Powders, dusts and granular pesticides are not as easily absorbed thorough the skin and other body tissues as are the liquid forms. Again, consistent use of proper protective clothing will greatly reduce the potential risk of pesticide absorption.






It is important to consider whether runoff or wind is likely to carry the pesticide away from the application site. There are two types of wind drift that may cause chemicals to move off target. Particle drift happens when the wind scatters small droplets off the application site and onto neighboring shrubs, flowers or lawns. Vapor drift occurs when chemicals evaporate and move with air currents to other sites. Vapor drift is not common among specialty products, but in either case, an applicator should be aware of wind conditions in order to avoid any drift potential.


If a pesticide is taken into the mouth in sufficient amounts, it may cause serious illness, severe injury, or even death. The most frequent cases of accidental oral exposure are those when pesticides have been taken out of their original labeled container and illegally put into an unlabeled bottle or food container. If you get a clogged spray line or nozzle, never use your mouth to clear it.

Pesticides that are inhaled in large enough amounts can cause serious damage to nose, throat, and lung tissues. Vapors and extremely fine particles are the most serious contributors to respiratory exposure. Wear a respirator while working with powder and liquid pesticides. If you are unsure if a respirator is needed, ask your supervisor.

The tissues of the eye are particularly sensitive and absorbent, which means getting pesticides in the eyes brings an immediate threat of loss of sight, illness, or even death. If pesticides get in your eyes, immediately flush your eyes with clean water for at least 15 minutes.






Make sure that the equipment used to administer pesticides is clean and in good working condition. It is important to know how to operate the equipment safely and correctly. Do not allow children, pets, or unauthorized people to touch the equipment. If they are injured or poisoned, you could be held responsible.


What About the Equipment?

Make sure that you have all the equipment you need to properly administer the pesticides and that it is clean and in good operating condition. It is important to know how to operate the equipment safely and correctly. Do not allow children, pets, or unauthorized people to touch the equipment. If they are injured or poisoned, you could be held responsible.

Accidental Pesticide Spreading

You may transfer pesticides to objects, people, and animals when you touch them with gloves that you wore while handling pesticides. When you sit in your car or on a chair while wearing your pesticide-handling outfit, you may leave pesticides behind. If you step into your office or home to answer the telephone or use the toilet, you could leave pesticides on surfaces.

When you take home or wear home your work clothing and personal protective equipment, the pesticides can rub off on carpeting, furniture, and laundry items. When you do not clean up a spill, no matter how small, other people or animals may get pesticide on themselves without knowing they are being exposed. Pesticides that you spread may harm whoever or whatever touches them.

Be certain that no one is overexposed to pesticides that you are handling - it's your legal responsibility. Let workers, supervisors, and any other people who may be near the application know about which sites you plan to treat and how long they need to stay out of those areas.






It is possible to transfer pesticides to objects, people, and animals when touching them with gloves worn while handling pesticides. When you sit in your car or on a chair while wearing your pesticide-handling outfit, you may leave pesticides behind. If you step into your office or home to answer the telephone or use the toilet, you could leave pesticides on surfaces. All clothing worn while handling pesticides should be thoroughly cleaned after they are used.


Be Prepared for Emergencies

It is extremely important to be prepared for emergencies before beginning any kind of pesticide handling. Make sure that you are prepared to deal with emergencies such as spills, injuries, and poisonings. The IPM states that emergency supplies should include, at minimum, the following:

  • Personal decontamination equipment – Keep plenty of clean water, detergent, and paper towels nearby in a protected container to allow for fast decontamination in an emergency. Have an extra coverall-type garment nearby in case clothing becomes soaked or saturated with pesticide and must be removed.
  • First aid equipment – Have a well-stocked first aid kit on hand. It should include a plastic eyewash dispenser that has a gentle flushing action.
  • Spill cleanup equipment – Keep a spill cleanup kit on hand at all times. The kit should contain not only all of the items needed for prompt and complete spill cleanup, but also personal protective equipment to protect you while you are dealing with the spill.

Be familiar with the signs and symptoms of poisoning caused by the pesticides you handle. In a poisoning emergency, get the person out of the exposure area, quickly call for medical assistance, and administer first aid.

The following lists from the Pesticide Management Education Program can help you recognize the symptoms of mild, acute, or severe pesticide poisoning:

  • Mild Poisoning or Early Symptoms of Acute Poisoning – headache, fatigue, weakness, dizziness, restlessness, nervousness, perspiration, nausea, diarrhea, loss of appetite, loss of weight, thirst, moodiness, soreness in joints, skin irritation, eye irritation, irritation of the nose and throat.
  • Moderate Poisoning or Early Symptoms of Acute Poisoning – nausea, diarrhea, excessive saliva, stomach cramps, excessive perspiration, trembling, no muscle coordination, muscle twitches, extreme weakness, mental confusion, blurred vision, difficulty in breathing, cough, rapid pulse, flushed or yellow skin, weeping.
  • Severe or Acute Poisoning – fever, intense thirst, increased rate of breathing, vomiting, uncontrollable muscle twitches, pinpoint pupils, convulsions, inability to breathe, unconsciousness.

Before You Apply

One of the first things to do before beginning any kind of pesticide application is decide which pesticide to use. The certified applicator for your company has the knowledge to make that decision and should select the safest and most effective pesticide for the job.

Some formulations of pesticides are more likely than others to cause unwanted harm to surfaces, plants, and animals in the application site. For example, emulsifiable concentrates have a tendency to pit or stain some surfaces, are easily absorbed through the skin of some animals, and may injure some plants. Dusts and powders are likely to leave a visible residue that may be unacceptable. It is also important to consider whether runoff or wind is likely to carry the pesticide away from the application site. There are two types of wind drift that may cause chemicals to move off target. Particle drift happens when the wind scatters small droplets off the application site and onto neighboring shrubs, flowers or lawns. Vapor drift occurs when chemicals evaporate and move with air currents to other sites. Vapor drift is not common among specialty products, but in either case, an applicator should be aware of wind conditions in order to avoid any drift potential.






According to the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University, there are about 110,000 non-fatal human pesticide poisonings each year in the United States. To avoid accidental poisonings when treating an area with pesticides, keep in mind the safety of people and animals in the vicinity and post warning signs alerting them to the presence of chemicals. Always keep personal clothing, food, drinks, chewing gum, tobacco products, and other personal belongings away from where pesticides are stored or handled; they could become contaminated and poison or injure you when you use them.


Scheduling Pesticide Applications

Each pesticide application involves a different set of conditions. Your responsibility is to assess the conditions and decide when to apply the pesticide and whether to take any special precautions.

Avoid Heat Stress

Several factors work together to cause heat stress. Before you begin a pesticide handling task, think about whether any of these factors are likely to present a problem. Consider what adjustments you may need to make in the task itself or in the workplace conditions, including these suggestion from the EPA:

  • Monitor temperature and humidity, and workers’ responses at least hourly in hot environments
  • Schedule heavy work and PPE-related tasks for the cooler hours of the day
  • Acclimatize workers gradually to hot temperatures
  • Shorten the length of work periods and increase the length of rest periods
  • Give workers shade or cooling during breaks
  • Halt work altogether under extreme conditions.

So there you have it - a quick refresher on safely handling pesticides. Hopefully it will serve as a simple reminder to be cautious while working with these potentially dangerous chemicals.

For more information on pesticide handling, visit www.epa.gov www.ipmcenters.org www.cdc.gov



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April 22, 2019, 5:39 pm PDT

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