Updated: May 25
Here at Sterifab, we handle pesticides and chemicals all day long, so we’ve put together this comprehensive guide on how to handle pesticides, how to read (interpret) their labels, and what all of the symbols mean. Plus, check out the last section for how to handle a pesticide emergency.
In the following blog, we’ll cover such topics as:
What’s on a pesticide product label − and why.
Important pesticide terms you really should know.
What do the symbols on pesticide containers mean?
What the warnings on the label mean.
To begin with, here are three rules you should always obey when you’re using any kind of pesticide:
Read the entire label before use. Keep in mind that you are legally obligated to do so – abide by every prescribed step.
Obey all the appropriate federal, state, and local laws and regulations regarding the deployment of pesticides − and wearing the appropriate personal protective equipment.
If you have any doubts or questions about a pesticide product – including instructions on the label or which laws/regulations you should obey − seek out reliable advice.
It’s worth pointing out here that while there are numerous, state, federal, local, and academic websites that offer accurate, reliable information on the handling and use of pesticides, one of the best is undoubtedly that created by the EPA. They have an entire section devoted to pesticides and their management.
What’s on a Pesticide Product Label
Quite a lot, it turns out, and all of it is important. Very important!
At a minimum, there are 15 categories that must be listed on the label of any pesticide product. Here’s the list and the information contained in each classification:
Trade or Product Name – This has to be displayed prominently on the label, along with any brand or trademark.
Classification − Depending on their toxicity and intended, use all pesticides are sorted into one of four categories: domestic, commercial, manufacturing, or restricted. Type depends on where the product used and how harmful it might be to humans and the environment.
Pesticide Type − This lists the product’s anticipated target, i.e., whether it’s used as an herbicide, insecticide, or fungicide.
Active Ingredient(s) and Guarantee of Concentration – Every active ingredient in the product must be classified according to its common name, and the precise concentrations (% by weight or by volume) used.
Type of Formulation – This describes the product’s physical type, e.g., liquid, dust, or powder, etc.
Pest Control Product Registration Number – All pest control products are assigned a registration number, which must be listed on the label.
Registrant's Name and Address – Provides the name and address of the person or company listing the product.
Net Contents of Package – Indicates the amount of pesticide in the receptacle (must be quantified in metric amounts).
Directions for Use – Usually includes the product’s anticipated targets, dosage rates, application instructions, and restrictions on its use.
Degree and Nature of Hazards – This refers to any precautionary signs, symbols, and/or ‘signal’ words employed on the label.
Special Warning Statements – Required on the labels of pesticides intended for household use, these might include such cautionary directives as “Read the label before use” or “Keep out of the reach of children”.
Precautionary Statements and Handling Precautions – Usually lists data on the risks associated with handling, storage, display, distribution, and disposal of the product in question.
First Aid Instructions – These provide practical information on what to do if someone is poisoned or in any way injured by the product.
Toxicological Information – This might include such information as the symptoms of poisoning, antidote therapeutic procedures, as well as a listing of other components that might require other, or additional, treatment approaches.
Notice to User – Simply tells the user that they have to handle the product according to the directives on the label.
Important Pesticide Terms to Know
If you’re an ordinary consumer, it’s also important that you know the meaning of terms used on the labels of pesticide products. On the other hand, if you’re a PMP (pest management professional) it never hurts to refresh your memory. Plus, you may be unaware of new rules or regulations that may have been introduced; the updates will invariably be reflected on product labels.
Target Pests – These are the pests the pesticide is designed to eradicate. The insects in question are usually listed on the label.
Active Ingredient – This refers to the ingredient(s) in a pesticide that actually kill, repel or attract; or lessen the activities of a pest. Federal law requires that a pesticide’s active ingredients be on the product’s label − together with its “percentage by weight.”
Inert Ingredients – These are the neutral components of pesticide products that don’t contribute to their insect-killing properties. Inert ingredients can include solvents, emulsifiers, surfactants, clay, and propellants.
Volatility – This indicates whether a particular pesticide product is likely to change from a solid or liquid into gas.
Spray Coverage – A term used to indicate both a spray’s target area..
Restricted Entry Intervals (REI) – Usually known as REI, this refers to the amount of time that an area treated with a pesticide should remain ‘off limits’
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) – Specialized clothing and gear designed to prevent, or at least greatly reduce, the effects of chemical exposure.
Of course, there are many more such terms, and the foregoing are just basic ‘must-knows’. To learn more about these terms and their origin, visit the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which is part of the US Department of Health and Human Services (HSS).
What Do the Symbols Mean?
As you will probably have noticed, properly labeled pesticide products usually include symbols designed to provide you with quick, easy-to-understand facts about the toxicity or poisonous nature of the product. The better-known ones include:
1. Poison – Whether ingested orally, absorbed by the skin, or inhaled, this symbol means that the substance is potentially lethal and exposure should be treated accordingly.
2. Corrosive – This alerts you to the fact that the substance so labeled is caustic and may seriously damage the skin and eyes and can produce chemical burns.
3. Flammable – This is a warning that the substance so labeled has a very low ‘flashpoint’. In other words, it is highly flammable and can easily catch fire.
4. Explosive – Self-explanatory, really. Just a warning that the substance can explode, given the right conditions, e.g., exposing pesticides in pressurized cans to open flames.
Handling a Pesticide Emergency
As I mentioned before, the EPA’s website is one of the best sources of information for all things pesticidal. This is especially true when it comes to handling pesticide emergencies. In fact, if you use any sort of pesticide, you should know how to deal with predicaments you may face – particularly in the case of accidental poisoning.
Here are some (edited) suggestions taken directly from the EPA’s excellent Citizen's Guide to Pest Control and Pesticide Safety:
“Try to determine what the victim was exposed to and what part of the body was affected before you take action—taking the right action is as important as taking immediate action.
If the person is unconscious, having trouble breathing, or having convulsions, ACT FAST! Speed is crucial. Give needed first aid immediately. Call 911 or your local emergency service.
Swallowed poison. A conscious victim should drink a small amount of water to dilute the pesticide. Induce vomiting only if a poison center or physician advises you to do so. Call the Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222.
Poison on skin. Drench skin with water for at least 15 minutes. Wash skin and hair thoroughly with soap and water.
Chemical burn on the skin. Drench skin with water for at least 15 minutes. Cover the burned area immediately with a loose, clean, soft cloth. Do not apply ointments, greases, powders, or other drugs.
Poison in the eye. Hold eyelid open and wash the eye quickly and gently with clean cool running water from the tap or a hose for 15 minutes or more. Use only water; do not use eye drops, chemicals, or drugs in the eye.”
The above represent only a small fraction of the advice offered by the EPA, but you should definitely make a list (perhaps on your cell phone’s speed dial?) of the numbers you might need, e.g., the National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC) at 1-800-858-7378 and your local Fire and Police Departments.