Reducing Pesticide Exposure

What are pesticides?

Pesticides are materials used to control pests such as insects, rodents, weeds, molds and germs. Pesticides come in various forms, including sprays, liquids, powders, granules, baits and foggers (total release aerosols). Many common household products are pesticides, such as insect repellents, bleach, and pool chemicals. Because pesticides are designed to have an effect on living things, they can be harmful to people and the environment, especially when they are used, stored, or disposed of improperly.

Read the label.

Prior to purchase, read label directions and make sure you understand how to use the product. Also, be sure the product can be used on the pest you want to control and in the place you want to use it. The label contains important information on ingredients, warnings, safety equipment, first aid, environmental hazards, use directions, storage and disposal. It is dangerous, and illegal, to not follow the directions on the label.

Follow these recommendations to reduce pesticide exposure and risks to health and the environment:

Prevent pests from entering your home or garden.

  • Prevent pest problems by cleaning house, laundering pet bedding, and performing regular yard and garden maintenance to remove places where pests can live and feed. Pests need shelter, food, and water to survive.
  • Block pests, like rodents and insects, from entering your home. Check around your home for any potential points of entry, such as cracks, broken seals, holes, or any other signs of damage.
  • Stop weeds from growing by improving the overall health of your lawn or garden, with soil aeration, overseeding, and mulching.
  • Clear overgrown brush, keep grass mowed, and remove objects in the yard that can hold standing water. These actions reduce available habitats for several pests, including ticks and mosquitoes.

Consider non-chemical methods for controlling pests.

  • Try using non-chemical management methods on your lawn and garden, such as introducing beneficial insects and wild, native plants, or use physical methods, including hand weeding, mulching, or setting traps, to reduce chemical use outdoors. Beneficial insects, like honey bees, which help to pollinate gardens, and lady bugs, which prey upon other nuisance pests such as aphids, can help to improve the health of a yard.
  • Use mechanical traps (snap traps, sticky traps) and flyswatters inside. Sticky traps can also be used as a tool in identifying pests or for determining the level of an infestation.
  • Vacuum during a flea infestation and dispose of vacuum contents in an outdoor trash can immediately. Wash all pet bedding using hot water.

Select the product that best fits your needs.

  • Properly identify the pest and the extent of infestation first.
  • Choose only pesticide products that are specific for the pest you have, and are also in the most useful form (bait, spray, etc.).
  • Avoid broadcast or total release aerosol applications (i.e., foggers) indoors when possible. For flea infestations, consider using a powdered flea treatment for carpets, rugs and crevices.
  • Review the directions for use and list of target pests on the label before purchasing. Ask for assistance if necessary.

Consider this before purchasing chemical pesticides:

  • Do a few weeds in your yard require a whole lawn pesticide application or would a spot treatment take care of the problem? If the problem is small, do you need pesticides at all? Determine how much you can tolerate certain pests (insects and weeds) to reduce your use of pesticides.
  • Integrated Pest Management strategies can reduce the need for chemical pesticides.
  • It is important to identify the pest before determining the best course of action.
  • Pesticides labeled “broad-spectrum” are meant to treat a wide variety of pests, whereas “selective” pesticides treat one or a few pests. Pesticide products typically list target pests on the label, so review this to make sure your pests are listed.

Follow label directions exactly when mixing and applying pesticides.

  • Use only pesticides that are in their original containers with the label attached.
  • Follow directions on the label exactly. Do not increase or reduce the use rate or use the product for purposes other than those on the label.
  • Wear protective clothing as described on the label. Store protective clothing away from living spaces.
  • Never smoke, drink, or eat while handling pesticides.
  • Mix or dilute pesticides outdoors in a well-ventilated area. Mix only the amount needed for the immediate job. Never use the same measuring cups and spoons used for pesticides to prepare food, even if they are washed.
  • Do not let pesticides contaminate food or food preparation surfaces. Ventilate thoroughly after indoor applications.
  • Avoid using fogging products. If you do use a fogger, read label directions carefully and don’t use more than required for the size of the space being treated.
  • Minimize exposure to pet products (like flea and tick control products) by following directions and using gloves. Avoid touching your pet until the product has dried, and wash hands when finished.
  • Keep children, pets and toys away from areas where pesticides are mixed and applied until the pesticide has dried or for as long as is stated on the label.
  • Use only insect or rodent baits in child-resistant packaging and place them in areas where children and pets cannot reach them.
  • Always close containers correctly, even when only stopping for a break or between mixings.
  • Clean up spills promptly according to label directions. Generally, liquid pesticides can be sprinkled with sawdust, kitty litter or vermiculite and swept into a plastic bag for proper disposal in an outdoor trash can.
  • Wash exposed skin; rinse gloves, shoes or boots; change clothes after applying pesticides. Wash clothes soiled with pesticides separately from other laundry in hot water and detergent.

Store and dispose of pesticides properly.

  • Buy the least amount of pesticide needed for the job to reduce storage and disposal problems.
  • Follow storage directions on the label. Keep pesticides, and any equipment used to apply them, in a locked cabinet in a well-ventilated area, away from children, pets and food.
  • Keep pesticides in their original containers with their original labeling.
  • Store pet-use and all other pesticides away from family medicines and toiletries.
  • Follow disposal directions on the label for getting rid of leftover pesticides and empty containers. Never dispose of pesticides down the sink, toilet, sewer drain or onto the ground.
  • Never reuse a pesticide container.

Minimize environmental impacts from pesticide use.

  • Follow label directions in the “Environmental Hazards” section. Do not apply pesticides right before a heavy rain or in places where they might wash into water bodies to prevent pesticides from getting into groundwater or surface water. The “Environmental Hazards” section also provides guidelines for preventing potential impacts to non-target species, including wildlife, fish, bees, and endangered plants and animals.
  • Do not use more product than is directed.
  • Apply outdoor use pesticides when there is no more than a light breeze and the temperature is cool, such as early morning or evening, to reduce travel of pesticide to nearby areas.