Although it may seem difficult or unnecessary to fully read the labels on pesticide containers, failing to do so can cause unintended consequences for workers and land health. In addition, not applying these chemicals correctly can be a violation of federal law, according to Lisa Blecker with the University of California Ag Pesticide Safety Program.
“The label on pesticides and herbicides is essentially a complex legal document that can be challenging to read,” she said. “It is a combination of what is stuck on the jug or the box and a booklet. Not reading the full label might cause the chemical to be misapplied or cause human illness if not applied with precautions.”
Blecker said often the labels on the jugs are printed with a large enough font to read, but the accompanying booklet print can often be very small.
“The font on the booklets is really small, but you can always download the full label or booklet and print it at a larger size,” she said.
She recommended the websites agrian.com/labelcenter or CDMS.net to access printable labels.
Reading the label is important before any use or transportation.
“The labels should be read before buying, mixing, loading, storing or transporting chemicals,” she said. “It is a violation of federal law to use the product inconsistent with the labeling. The label is essentially the law.
“The federal regulations for labeling are essentially the minimum requirement, but there may be state and county regulations that require additional labels,” she added. “Labels will always include things like the percentage of active ingredients, the percentage of water, and other ingredients.”
To help farmers decode the labels, Blecker said it is important to pay attention to several key sections:
“Pesticide toxicity is important because there are three levels: caution, acute, and chronic. Caution is the lowest level of hazard, acute will cause high levels of toxicity with short-term exposure, and chronic will cause toxicity with repeated levels of low-level exposure,” she explained.
Any chemicals that are determined to be “acute” will be labeled with the words “danger or poison” and have a skull and crossbones symbol to signify the product may cause death.
The word “danger” also means that small amount of exposure can cause irreversible damage. The word “warning” means that the lowest dose still killed 50 percent of test animals.
“No pesticide is non-toxic, that’s why we read the labels,” she noted.
Routes of exposure are also important to note and should be included on the label. The four routes are: mouth, nose, eyes and skin.
“It is important to read all of the human health-related information because if there is accidental exposure, that info needs to be shared with first aid teams,” she said. “Sometimes the route of exposure can make the exposure severe. We don’t want to try and read the label in that situation.”
In addition, every pesticide label contains an EPA registration number that should be shared with any healthcare provider.
“The EPA registration number is the most important piece of information that is going to list the active ingredient, which can vary,” she said.
Personal protection requirements
Labeling will also show what personal protective equipment (PPE) is required for workers.
“The labeling says what kind of personal protective equipment is needed for workers, as well as how long to keep workers out of the fields when certain chemicals are applied,” Bleecker shared.
The PPE label includes specific instructions about that protection gear should be worn, as well as the federal requirements for posting warning signs.