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Pesticide Safety Education Program

Understanding Pesticides

What exactly are pesticides?

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The word pesticide is a general term used to describe any substance that is used to kill a pest or prevent or reduce the damage they cause.

Most pesticides fall into certain categories.
Each category targets certain types of pests. It is important that you use the correct product for the job.

How can I identify a pesticide?

All pesticides can be identified by the presence of an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) registration number (e.g., EPA Reg. No. 1234-567). By law, this number must be located on the product container or label of all pesticides. Before any product can be sold or used as a pesticide, the EPA reviews all appropriate data to ensure the product will not cause undue risk to people or the environment.

Are pesticides dangerous?

Yes, they can be. That is why anyone using pesticides must read and follow the instructions provided on the product container or label - its not only smart, it's the law! The danger of any product is evaluated not only by it's toxicity, but also by the degree of your exposure to the product. As Paracelsus, the "father" of modern toxicology, put it, "the dose makes the poison."

Pesticides are not the only poisons - plants, fungi, and bacteria produce some of the most toxic compounds known to man. Nature is the "best" chemist.

Are pesticides important?

As you saw on the front of this fact sheet, pesticides are valuable to us in many ways. They help us to control or reduce hundreds of pests in and around our home as well as in agricultural and commercial settings. Others help to maintain our health; disinfectants are used to cleanse kitchens and bathrooms, and repellents are used to ward off nuisance insects and ticks that can carry disease.

Are pesticides necessary?

Sometimes pesticides are necessary, but not in every situation. Often times a good understanding of the pest. and the damage it is capable of, may allow us to prevent future problems or decide not to control the pest at all. Non-chemical control methods such as handpicking, cleaning up garbage or food scraps, and proper plant care can often reduce or eliminate pest problems.

To find out more...

For more information about pesticides, pesticide safety, or pest control, contact your local Extension Office.

Urbana, Illinois
August, 1996

Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension Work, Acts of May 8 and June, 1914, in cooperation with the U. S. Department of agriculture. DENNIS R. CAMPION, Interim Director, Cooperative Extension Service, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The Illinois Cooperative Extension Service provides equal opportunities in programs and employment. The information provided in this publication is for educational purposes only. References to commercial products or trade names do not constitute an endorsement by the University of Illinois and does not imply discrimination against other similar products.

Prepared by Bruce Paulsrud, Extension Specialist. Department of Crop Sciences.