The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Answering Questions About Pesticides

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
State Master Gardener Coordinator

I often get questions about pesticides. A reoccurring theme is "Are they safe?" In my estimation that's like asking "Is a car safe?" Just saying "yes" or "no" does not give an accurate picture. Answers to questions such as "How are they used?", "By whom?" and "In what setting?" are important in understanding safety and risk of anything, pesticides or cars.

Access to reliable information is important in determining risk. In addition changes to the labels occur with pesticides, therefore up-to-date information is even more crucial. For example two common insecticides, chlorpyrifos and diazinon are being phased out of some uses. If you choose to use pesticides and want more information, there are some great resources available. The best part is you don't have to wear a lab coat to understand them.

U of I Extension specialist Bruce Paulsrud shared the following information about sources of pesticide information in the September 12, 2001 issue of the University of Illinois Extension's Home, Yard and Garden Pest Newsletter.

If you like to get your information on the web, and you are looking for a source of objective, science-based information about pesticides written for the non-expert, then the EXTOXNET (EXTension TOXicology NETwork) InfoBase may be for you. For example, you can access the Pesticide Information Profiles (PIPs) for specifics on pesticides. Toxicology Information Briefs (TIBs) discuss concepts in toxicology and environmental chemistry. Other areas include: Toxicology Issues of Concern (TICs); fact sheets; news about toxicology issues; newsletters; resources for toxicology information; and technical information.

A new feature, Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs), answers questions about toxicants and the environment, how toxicants might affect you, and how to become more aware of possible hazards around you. Topics include: adverse health effects and risk; diet and cancer; food safety; household hazardous waste; indoor air; laws and regulations; pesticides; safe drinking water; and soil (gardening and chemicals).

EXTOXNET ( is an effort of University of California-Davis, Oregon State University, Michigan State University, Cornell University, and the University of Idaho. Its purpose is to stimulate dialogue on toxicology issues, develop and make available information relevant to Extension toxicology, and facilitate the exchange of toxicology-related information.

If you prefer phone-based information, you may want to check out the National Pesticide Telecommunications Network (NPTN). It is a toll-free telephone service that provides pesticide information to any caller in the United States, Puerto Rico, or the Virgin Islands. It provides objective, science-based information about a wide variety of pesticide-related subjects, including pesticide products, recognition and management of pesticide poisoning, toxicology, and environmental chemistry.

NPTN is staffed by highly qualified pesticide specialists who have the toxicology and environmental chemistry education and training needed to provide knowledgeable answers to pesticide questions.

The NPTN is a source of factual chemical, health, and environmental information about more than 600 pesticide active ingredients incorporated into over 50,000 different products registered for use in the United States since 1947.

NPTN can help callers interpret and understand toxicology and environmental chemistry information about pesticides, supply general information on regulation of pesticides in the United States, access over 300 pesticide resources, access pesticide label information, direct callers in pesticide incident investigation, emergency human and animal treatment, safety practices, cleanup and disposal, or laboratory analyses. Excluding holidays, you can call NPTN seven days a week from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. (CST) at (800)858-7378. Or contact NPTN by fax (541)737-0761) or by e-mail (

NPTN also has a Web site ( that offers objective, science-based information about pesticides.

The Master Gardener training program is also all about discovering reliable resources. It's time to sign up for the volunteer Master Gardener program, face-to-face or online training. Contact your county's U of I Extension office. Deadline is December 6 in Champaign County. Phone 217-333-7672 or

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