Safety is an important consideration when applying chemicals to treat or prevent a pest's infestation, especially indoors. For this discussion, we won't be including weed control products (herbicides), although many definitions of "pesticide" would, as weeds are also "unwanted organisms." Also, we will not be addressing current methods of termite control in this article.
The pesticides that homeowners typically use fall into two broad categories, insecticides and rodenticides. Their names are fairly self explanatory. One kills insects the other kills rodents (mammals). The accidental poisoning dangers, however, are quite different.
Most rodenticide poisoning occurs when dogs, cats, or children eat a solid bait formulation.
Most insecticide poisoning occurs when the applicator or other non-pest absorbs the product through his or her skin or breathes in airborne particles of the insecticide, fogger or fumigation.
Let's define safety. Safety is the combination of how toxic a particular compound is and the amount of exposure non-target organisms to it.
For both rodenticides and insecticides, the chemists combining the active and inert ingredients in our pesticides strive to create products having the lowest levels of mammalian toxicity, lowest carcinogenic (cancer-causing) likelihood, and lowest mutagenic (birth defects) profile.
No matter how safe a modern insecticide may be, there are countless products which were used for years nonchalantly that are now believed to be linked to cancer and other diseases. Chlordane, once commonly used for termite control, and DDT, once a very popular pesticide, are two examples. The manufacturers may have been completely honest with the public about the "safety" of their current products at the time of their use, only to find later that there were unknown or unexpected negative results from exposure.
You're role in safety is to control EXPOSURE. Exposure can occur through inhalation, skin exposure, eye exposure, or ingestion. The level of toxicity of a particular product wouldn't matter if you didn't allow yourself or others to be exposed to it. Don't allow the pesticide to enter your body through your skin, lungs, eyes, or mouth.
Dermal (skin) exposure is the most common form- so it is important to cover your skin & WEAR GLOVES. When applying pesticide, whether wet (spray), dust (powder), or fumigation (fogger), your personal safety is enhanced by wearing things like:
- Long sleeves and pants
- Shoes (not flip-flops)
- Chemical-resistant gloves
Depending on the product and the form it takes, you may also be told to wear a dust mask or a respirator.
Always read every bit of the label on the product you are using-not just the mixing instructions. This will likely tell you to not have people (other than the applicator) or pets in the area being treated. The important words on labels give you a fair indication of how toxic a product is:
- "caution" is mildest
- "warning" is more hazardous
-"danger" is for products with most harmful possible effects
To minimize exposure, choose a gel or solid over a fogger or spray. And of sprays, non-aerosol products utilize less chemicals and are easier to control; they produce fewer airborne particles.
There are no "safe" pesticides out there. Some are safer than others - boric acid is an example. You can choose pesticides that are organic or labeled "non-toxic," but often they must be reapplied and they take longer to work. Pyrethrin, derived from flowers of the mum family, is very effective in pest control, and is available commercially.
Don't handle any pesticide like candy. Though, if you were exposed to enough of any compound on earth, you could die from that exposure. We routinely handle incredibly toxic materials in our daily lives-breathing fumes & getting some accidentally on our skin… Filled up your car lately? Or used bleach in the laundry or as a countertop spray cleaner?
For indoor insecticides, some of the more toxic are organophosphates. If you are concerned about toxicity, avoid products containing the following ingredients: phosmet, naled, tetrachlorvinphos, diazinon, malathion, chlorpyrifos, and dichlorvos.
Before beginning, also assess the area you are about to treat. Are there plants that might be exposed or harmed by the treatment? Are there any pets present that might be exposed to the treatment? Fish and other aquatic creatures are especially susceptible to insecticide toxicity. Reptiles and birds are also usually at higher risk than mammals to insecticide poisoning.
One Final Note on Toxicity
Consider all of the prescription medication we take. Most of them can kill you if you take enough of them, yet we swallow pills on a daily basis without much of a thought about it. It's all about dosage. Hopefully you won't be chemically treating you house every day. Nor will you intentionally allow pesticide into your eyes or mouth or to come in contact with your skin.
It's also nice to note that we are much, much larger than most of the insects we are trying to eradicate. In some cases, in addition to the massive dosage discrepancy, the insects also possess more chemical receptor sites for the particular active ingredient than mammals do.
With all pesticides, apply your materials to locations that are most likely to be contacted by your target pests, and least likely to be contacted by your family and pets.