Environmental Health

Eliminate the Pesticides Along With the Pest - Upload Knowledge

What to do if someone in my school is exposed to a pesticide?
Exposure to a pesticide may or may not be a serious problem. It depends on the incident. According to the EPA, pesticides can burn or irritate the skin from external exposure or have a more serious effect on internal organs from swallowing, inhaling, or significant absorption through the skin. Although all pesticide exposure accidents should be taken seriously, you should understand that in some cases they won’t cause significant problems. For example, sometimes the person’s body may be able to handle the exposure by metabolizing and excreting the chemicals sufficiently. Other pesticides can’t even be absorbed across the skin in the first place. Definitely seek a medical professional if an accident happens, or if you want to talk to a person just to answer your non-emergency questions about the exposure, call the National Pesticide Information Center at 1-800-858-7378, open seven days a week from 9:30 A.M. to 7:30 P.M. To order printed materials about poison exposure, call your Local Poison Control Center at 1-202-362-3867

For Emergencies of massive exposure or immediate symptoms! Call 9-1-1 or your Local Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.

The EPA also offers these general first-aid guidelines:

Swallowed pesticide—Induce vomiting, but only if emergency personnel on the phone tell you to.
Exposure to the eyes—Immediately hold the eyelid open and wash with a gentle stream of fresh water for 15 minutes. Avoid eye drops, chemicals, or drugs.
Splashed on the skin—Take off contaminated clothes and drench the exposed area with water immediately. Then wash the hair and skin thoroughly with soap and water.
Inhalation—Get the person to fresh air immediately even if you have to drag him or her, then loosen any constricting clothing and give artificial respiration if you know how. If you can’t reach the victim because of toxic fumes, call the Fire Department.

For more about the general problems pesticides can cause
Check out Extoxnet’s Toxicology Information Briefs, broken up by topics such as bioaccumulation, carcinogenicity, fate and entry of chemicals in humans, and how pesticides affect the environment, among other topics. Extoxnet (The Extension Toxicology Network) is a reputable resource maintained by the University of California-Davis, Oregon State University, Michigan State University, Cornell University, and the University of Idaho.

Pesticides can negatively affect many organisms because of how they travel through the environment. Farms, business, schools, and homeowners use pesticides frequently, inundating our soil, water, and air with them. Some pesticides don’t last long once applied, but others persist and can create unintended consequences. According to Extoxnet, pesticides applied to the soil can percolate through soil and end up in groundwater. Others may be washed off that soil and make it to nearby bodies of water via runoff. Not only will they contaminate soil and water, but they can also be evaporated and pollute air. For example, some airborne pesticides can travel long distances far from the location where they were applied. Scientists have tracked the pesticide toxaphene 900 miles from Mississippi cotton fields to Lake Superior, where it was found in sediments on the lake bottom (Handbook of Environmental Fate and Exposure Data for Organic Chemicals). Also, pesticides don’t only travel outdoors but can travel indoors as well according to the Washington Toxics Coalition. They can get on shoes and travel inside where they saturate carpets and can persist and affect the occupants of a building. Through the complex ways the environment is webbed together, it’s difficult to even understand all the ways pesticides can travel and affect life in numerous areas.

How to quickly tell the toxicity of the pesticides your school is using
Look on the label for the specific key words that correspond to the EPA’s toxicity ratings. The EPA ranks pesticides between 1 and 4, with 1 being the most toxic. “DANGER” represents a rating of 1 and is the most toxic. “WARNING” represents a rating of 2. “CAUTION” represents 3 and 4 ratings, and is the least toxic, but should still be used strictly according to the safety instructions printed on the label.

Look up the ingredients in your pesticides for specific health & environmental concerns
To look up the ingredients in the pesticides your school uses, you should be aware of two things. First of all, you can look up active ingredients on the label easily with the sources listed below. However, pesticides are often marketed under different trade names, so if you can’t find information about the chemical you’re looking for, try looking up different trade names within the sources we provide. Secondly, be aware that there are often inert ingredients that are not mentioned on a product’s label. Just because inert ingredients are not mentioned does not necessarily mean they are not harmful. And according to Washington Toxics Coalition, inert ingredients can sometimes comprise up to 90% of the product! Unfortunately, the specific inert ingredients used in a product are usually hard to find, and sometimes not available because many companies consider them a “trade secret.” This is why the best approach to dealing with toxic chemical pesticides in your school is to limit their use altogether (See our Take Some Action and Go the Extra Mile sections below on how to do that!). If you do want to try to research the inert ingredients, either call the manufacturer’s customer service number and ask them for all the ingredients, or consult the MSDS that should be shipped with each product. If an MSDS was not shipped with the product, call the manufacturer to request one, or if the MSDS is two years old or more, request a new one anyway. What is the MSDS? An MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) is an information sheet produced by the manufacturer which lists the hazardous ingredients, their potential health hazards, information on safely handling the product, and a rating of 0 to 4 gauging the level of health hazard. However, because they are written by the manufacturer, they do not always provide a complete picture of all the ingredients, and that’s why the best option may be to call the customer service department.

After you’ve obtained the list of ingredients, check out Beyond Pesticides’ Gateway for information on how specific ingredients in the pesticides you currently use affect human health and the environment. The guide will also give you a ranking for each ingredient of toxic or least-toxic according to Beyond Pesticides. After you click on the guide, go to the “active ingredient fact sheet in the left-hand corner for a detailed explanation of health effects and environmental effects. For just a quick checklist of the specific known health effects and environmental effects for the active ingredient you’re curious about, click on “see chart” in the middle of the table.

If the ingredients you are looking for are not listed in Beyond Pesticides’ Gateway, then try Extoxnet’s Pesticide Information Profiles which is a more extensive list and also includes the different trade names for each pesticide, other common names, and even the manufacturers. This site also provides the health and environmental impacts for each ingredient.

How do we avoid pesticides in cafeteria lunches?
According to the Centers for Disease Control, one of the primary sources of pesticide exposure to children comes from their food. For more on the roll of pesticides in cafeteria food, check out the Sustainable Table and our section on Food.

In our Food section, we’re researching ways for you to reduce pesticide exposure in your school lunches and how to make lunches healthier overall. In the meantime, consider developing a purchasing policy where you buy mostly locally grown and organic food. In exploring organic options, be aware that marketing words such as “natural” are not interchangeable with the term “organic.” For a list of specifications that make a food product officially “organic,” check out the USDA’s guidelines for production and handling standards. For a product to be certified organic by the USDA, it has to have this symbol printed on the container.

Where do I find general safety information about handling the pesticides that we have in our school right now?
We definitely hope that you’ll Take Some Action or Go the Extra Mile and reduce or completely eliminate pesticide use on your school grounds. However, before that happens or incase you can’t make those commitments at this point, we hope that you’ll at least use the following resources to limit the health and environmental hazards of the pesticides you’re using.

Before you consult any other sources, we recommend you read this short two-page guide on safety precautions put together by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation.

Even though it seems obvious, don’t overlook the wealth of information that’s available right on the label on the pesticide container. Safety instructions on the label are tailored specifically for the specific qualities of that pesticide.
If the directions for mixing small amounts of pesticides are not given on the label, then click here for a useful conversion chart from the University of Arizona.

Finally, pesticides can pose a risk even when they are not in use. For example, outdated pesticides sitting on shelves in schools, may now be banned by the manufacturer or even considered illegal to sell because the EPA has now deemed them to be unsafe. Reference the list of banned or severely restricted pesticides on the EPA’s website to see which pesticides in your school should be removed as soon as possible. Also, check out the EPA’s guidance on illegal pesticides, so that you can be aware of pesticides that may be illegally manufactured or sold in your area.

Before you dispose of a pesticide, however, the University of Missouri Extension, Office of Waste Management stresses that you should never pour pesticides down the drain. You should also never pour them into storm drains. Instead, you have to properly dispose of them by bringing them to a hazardous waste center or having a hazardous waste contractor pick them up. We recommend you check out Earth 911, a website that locates recycling centers around your zip code for specific hazardous wastes, including pesticides. You can also call them at 1-800-CLEAN-UP. After you do a search on their website for your zip code and get a list of businesses, you can click on a specific business to find out what other wastes are accepted at that location. If you are just looking to get rid of empty containers that once held pesticides, the University of Missouri Extension, Office of Waste Management recommends that you pressure rinse them if this service is available locally. If not, then triple rinse by filling a container a 1/4 full with water, closing it tightly, and then shaking it. Then apply that water to an area you are treating for pests; don’t pour the water down the sink. You can then dispose of the container with your solid waste.

For more specific guidance on safely disposing of or storing pesticides, visit this link from the National Pesticide Information Center.

Bring pesticide knowledge to the classroom!
Pesticides and Eggshell Thinning for grades 9-12 is a hands-on way to introduce pesticides and their effects to students, while challenging them to explore issues such as banning pesticides.

Also consider the list of activities on this website offered by Purdue Entomology Extension. The site offers classroom activities that teach Integrated Pest Management and other classroom activities that teach about insects in general, their role in the ecosystem, what makes them valuable, etc. Understanding insects’ essential place in our ecosystem leads students to understand why man-made chemicals such as insecticides (used to kill insects) sometimes have unintended effects on the whole ecosystem.

Any other questions about pesticides?
Check out the National Pesticide Information Center website, or call them toll-free at 1-800-858-7378. They are open seven days a week from 9:30 A.M. to 7:30 P.M. eastern standard time.