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March 13, 2004 - The Label is the law Pesticide users must read and follow instructions

Each year, home gardeners seek the lush lawns and landscapes. Many use over-the-counter pesticides to minimize insect, disease, and weed problems. Although pesticides should be considered as a viable option for pest control, integrated pest management (IPM) principles suggest their use as a last resort. Unfortunately, homeowners seem to find it easier to pick up a bottle of herbicide at the local garden center instead of a hoe.

According to a 1999 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report, thirteen million pounds of active ingredients of herbicides, insecticides, and fungicides are applied annually in urban areas of Texas.

One of the biggest misconceptions by the average citizen is that pesticides cause pollution. However, people misusing pesticides is the real problem.

What is a pesticide?

A pesticide, according to the EPA, is "a substance intended for preventing, destroying, repelling, or mitigating any pest." Substances intended for use as plant growth regulators, defoliants, or desiccants are also included. However, a product that doesn't have claims, labels, or advertisements calling it a pesticide is thus not considered a pesticide.

Identifying the real problem

Each year, over two billion pounds of pesticides are applied to food crops, homes, schools, parks, and forests in the United States. Although agriculture is one of the major consumers with approximately 60 percent of the total pounds of active ingredients used, many regulatory agencies including water management groups consider homeowners to be a greater threat to the environment.

Why are homeowners seen as such a threat as compared to the volume use by agricultural users? First of all, amounts applied per acre suggests greater concentrations of chemicals applied in the limited urban area.

Also, certification and training is required for agricultural producers. Strict regulations must be met to maintain a pesticide applicator license, but many homeowners have little if any training in pesticide application and safety

Most homeowners view pesticides as convenient. Low-cost chemicals are viewed as a quick, easy, and affordable solution to pests. Cultural control and mechanical control takes time.

Live by the label

Most residential misuse starts with something as simple as not reading the label. When you purchase a pesticide, you are entering into a legal contract to use the product according to label directions. Just like any contract, you should always read the fine print. The label should be read in its entirety before applying any chemical, even if you've used it before. Pesticide labels are changing due to re-registration requirement.

The label provides not only the chemical and names of the product, but instructions for use, environmental risks, and safety instructions. Directions for use and concentrations on the label tell consumers the way that pesticides can be safely applied to control pests.

The common thought, however, tends to be "if a little is good, a lot is better." A better viewpoint on pesticides would be, "if a little is safe, a lot is more dangerous."

Future of pesticides

Talk of environmental and health threats may make one wonder if pesticides will be around in the future. The answer is undoubtably "yes," but the forms may change for home garden use.

The recent bans on home garden pesticides have led to chemical companies looking at development of more organic and alternative pest-control products. In 2002, fifteen of the twenty-six new active ingredients registered by the EPA Pesticide Program were new, low-risk pesticides including anti-microbials and biopesticides.

Every pesticide user, whether on the farm or in the backyard, has a responsibility to read and follow all directions. When instructions are followed, pesticides pose minimal risks to people, pets and the environment.

The next time you pick up the bottle, pick up your reading glasses as well. Use the label information provided to help you make an informed decision about whether to use the chemical. Your contemplation will likely protect you and the environment.

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