JoAnne Skelly: Using pesticides safely

Recently, I saw a woman in a bucket on a crane attached to a truck spraying her elm trees. She wore no protective gear while spraying. A man, also without protective gear, stood just below her. Since he was looking up as she sprayed insecticide over his head, drift rained down onto his face and into his eyes.

All pesticide products, even those listed as least toxic or organic, can be harmful if applied or used incorrectly. Pesticides include herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, rodenticides, horticultural oils and so on. Your risk of injury from a pesticide depends not only on the toxicity of the product, but also on your exposure. Exposure is determined by how much pesticide gets in or on your body during or after the application. Most exposures happen when you get a product on your skin or you breathe it into your lungs. The man standing underneath, while the woman sprayed above him, was exposed to the spray through skin contact and through his breathing.

Here are some common-sense pesticide safety practices:

Read, understand and follow all label instructions. Always wear the protective equipment listed on the label. At a minimum, you should wear a long sleeved shirt, long pants and close-toed shoes. In addition, use pesticide-resistant gloves. Cotton gloves or cotton-lined gloves will soak up liquids and allow pesticides to get on your skin. Wear goggles so products can’t get into your eyes. Wear a hat. Remove the clothes you wore immediately after applying a pesticide and wash them separately from other laundry.

Don’t smoke, eat or drink while applying a pesticide. Stop, remove gloves and wash hands before doing any of these things. Wash hands carefully after using a pesticide or during application if you need to use the bathroom.

Remove pet dishes and toys from the application area. Let sprays dry before allowing people and pets into the treated area. Never pour pesticides into other containers, such as water bottles or soda bottles. Many accidents have occurred when children drank the rebottled products. Store pesticides not only out of children’s reach, but also away from food, water sources or drains. Dispose of pesticides and their containers properly. Use the application rate that is most effective. Don’t use more of the product than permitted by the label — it’s against the law!

For additional safety tips, read “Is this pest control product safe?” at

JoAnne Skelly is Associate Professor & Extension Educator, Emerita at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at


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