Many homeowners use pesticides to help control pests inside and outside their homes. These treatments may include fire ant treatment, aerosol spray for stinging insects, treatment for ants and gnats, and other home pest control. Pesticides are chemicals that are used to kill, repel, or control organisms that are considered pests. Pesticides include insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, rodenticides, disinfectants, and other products. Each pesticide label indicates the level of toxicity and how to use it properly. Always wear the minimally recommended personal protective equipment (PPE) stated on the pesticide label to protect yourself from the dangers of pesticide exposure. NOTE: The label is the law.
There are four routes pesticide exposure can occur: oral, ocular, dermal, and inhalation.
- Oral exposure can happen when a chemical gets on hands, and then the applicator touches their mouth, and the pesticide is accidentally ingested. To avoid this, always wear gloves and wash your hands.
- Ocular exposure can occur directly or when the applicator rubs their eyes with hands that have a pesticide on them. To avoid this, make sure not to touch your eyes, wear eye protection, and do not apply pesticides in windy weather.
- Dermal exposure is the most common type of exposure. It accounts for 97% of overall exposures. To avoid dermal exposure, do not wear any contaminated clothing, such as ones worn before which have not been cleaned. Always wash hands after handling pesticides and before using the restroom. To avoid spray or dust drift, you should not apply pesticides in windy weather.
- Exposure via inhalation occurs when the toxicant is breathed into the body. To avoid this, wear the appropriately designated respirator that fits correctly.
To avoid pesticide exposure in general, use chemically resistant PPE, which includes plastic, rubber, neoprene, and polyvinyl chloride. However, always be sure to check the pesticide label because different materials will resist separate chemicals for different amounts of time. Leather and cotton gloves are not chemically resistant and should be avoided when applying pesticides. Always wear a long-sleeved shirt, long pants, close-toed shoes and socks, a wide-brimmed hat, and chemical-resistant gloves when handling pesticides. Long sleeves should go on the outside of gloves. After application, wash the gloves before removing them. Next, wash your hands. Gloves should be replaced when they start to show signs of wear. When chemical-resistant boots are required, wear the pant legs on the outside of the boots so that pesticides cannot be funneled down into the boot. Boots should be washed and dried thoroughly after each use. Only use these boots when applying pesticides and replace them yearly.
If you are going to be exposed to overhead dust or sprays, such as an aerial pesticide application, wear a chemical-resistant rain hat, wide-brimmed hat, or washable hard hat. Baseball hats are strongly discouraged as they will absorb the pesticide. When protective eyewear should be used, you may be advised to use a pair of goggles, a face shield, or safety glasses. Contact wearers should always wear protective eyewear. In general, contact lenses are not recommended when applying pesticides. The lungs are very sensitive to pesticides. You must wear a respirator if the label requires it; however, it’s a good idea to always do so. The respirator that is needed will be listed on the pesticide label. One should follow all respirator directions and make sure that the respirator forms a tight seal against your face. You should see a medical professional for clearance to wear a respirator.
All PPE should be washed separately from other clothing. It is important to wash PPE after each use and hang dry the items for 24 hours. After applying pesticides, you should also shower and clean yourself from head to toe. Always follow the label requirements on the pesticide container; the label is the law. The pesticide label provides directions on using, storing, and correctly disposing of the product.
For more information, see HGIC 2751, Pesticide Safety.