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Read the pesticide label for safety's sake

By Lizabeth Stahl, Extension Educator - Crops

Reading over the pesticide label is a key step in having a safe and productive cropping season. Even if you think you know a product well, read over the label each time you purchase and handle the product, as the label may have been updated, your practices may have changed, and because it can simply be difficult to remember all the details included on a pesticide label. Be sure to check the label that is attached to the container you are using as internet labels may differ. Reading over the label can help ensure the safety of yourself and others, the crop, the environment, and the food chain.

Safety for yourself and others

Pesticide labels will list the personal protective equipment (PPE) to wear when applying, mixing, and loading the product. Typical PPE includes a long-sleeve shirt, long pants, shoes, socks, and chemical resistant gloves (NOT leather or cloth gloves – these DO NOT provide adequate protection and are never recommended when working with pesticides). Protective eyewear is also common and a few products may require wearing a respirator.

Required PPE when working with a product can vary depending on what a person is doing. Check the label for a restricted entry interval (REI) and what PPE to wear if you must enter the treated area during this time.

Wearing the right PPE works. The National Ag Health Study, where approximately 89,000 commercial, non-commercial and private applicators and spouses in Iowa and North Carolina have been studied since 1993, shows that those who wore the proper PPE as listed on the pesticide label had no higher risk of prostate cancer, Parkinson’s disease, or retinal degeneration than the general public. Those who did not follow label directions or recommended safety practices, however, had both greater exposure to pesticides and an increased risk for long-term health problems.

First aid information is also listed on the label in case of accidental exposure. Also note that every pesticide label states “Keep out of Reach of Children”.

Safety for your crops

What sites can the product be used on? Are there crop stage and height restrictions for application or are drop nozzles required at a certain crop stage or height? Can the product be applied once the crop emerges or must it be applied before crop emergence? Will certain additives affect crop safety or pest control, or are there other application restrictions (e.g. nozzle type or spray droplet size) for efficacy or to reduce drift potential? How do weather conditions impact crop safety or pest control? These questions and more may be addressed on a pesticide label.

If you are planning to use an insecticide at corn planting, be sure to check pesticide labels for warnings about interactions with herbicides that may cause crop injury and/or stand loss. Also check the label to see if the rate of application differs by geographic location, soil type, and/or soil organic matter. Follow rotational restrictions to reduce risk of injury to subsequent crops due to herbicide carryover.

Safety for the environment and food chain

Restrictions may also be listed on the label to prevent elevated levels of pesticide residues from entering the food chain: Be sure to check for any grazing, harvest, or crop rotation restrictions. For example, commonly-used insecticides and herbicides prohibit the harvesting of treated soybean forage, straw, or hay for livestock feed.

Also check the label for any setback or buffer requirements. These are often listed to protect sensitive crops or sites, and/or to protect water quality. Bee and pollinator statements have been recently added to many labels as well.

Bottom line

The label is a legal document that provides information on how to mix, apply, store, and dispose of a pesticide properly. Following label directions will help prevent unintended negative impacts from occurring when using a pesticide.

For more information on pesticide safety education from University of Minnesota Extension:

Article Reviewed by:  Dean Herzfeld, Coordinator - Pesticide Safety & Environmental Education; Tana Haugen-Brown, Extension Educator and Co-Coordinator - Pesticide Safety & Environmental Education;  and Barabara Johnson, Academic Technologist.  

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