University of Illinois Extension

Using Pesticides Safely

Safe use of pesticides starts with understanding what a pesticide is, said James Schuster, a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator. “The word ‘pesticide’ is the generic name for products--both organic and inorganic--that kill a pest. Pesticides are then divided into specific types. For example, a fungicide controls fungal diseases, an insecticide controls insects, and a herbicide controls herbaceous plants, usually considered weeds.”

Choose the formulation easiest for you to use when following all label directions and precautions.

James Schuster

Pesticides can be produced as dusts, soluble powders, and emulsifable concentrates, as well as many other formulations. The pesticide’s formulation will be listed on the label. “Each formulation has advantages and disadvantages,” said Schuster. “Choose the formulation easiest for you to use when following all label directions and precautions.”

General-use pesticides are usually what is available to the homeowner. Clearly stated on the label, under “ingredients,” one will find active ingredients and inert ingredients.

“The active ingredient is the pesticide,” he said. “The inert ingredient is the carrier or what the pesticide is put on or in. An example is very fine ground clay that may be used as a carrier for a pesticide sold as a dust. In addition, the percentages of the active inert ingredients will be listed.”

Also on the label are signal words that provide a general indication of the acute toxicity of the product. “‘DANGER-POISON’ with a skull and crossbones denotes the most toxic products, and these require a license to purchase and use,” said Schuster. “’WARNING’ is the next category. The pesticides that come with the signal word ‘CAUTION’ are safer than the previous two groups. The safest group of pesticides has no signal words anymore. These are the most common types of pesticides available for homeowner use.”

Schuster emphasized the need to read the precautionary statement found on the label. It has information on human and animal hazards, environmental hazards, and physical and chemical hazards. First-aid information is also included.

“The directions-for-use section follows the precautionary statement,” he said. “It is essential that use directions are read thoroughly before a pesticide is used. The directions area covers mixing rates, re-entry information, how to store, dispose, and apply the product.

“Additional information in this area covers any restrictions in the product’s use, the crop or pest the pesticide is intended for, and how much to mix if mixing is required--dust products require no mixing, which is one of their advantages.”

Schuster urges users to read the entire label before buying, mixing, using, storing, and disposing of pesticides so no harm is done to humans, animals, or the environment.

“Only use pesticides when necessary and only at the least recommended label amount to control the pest,” he said. “These are the recommendations for the safe and responsible use of a pesticide whether that pesticide is organic or not.”