Pesticides often get a bad reputation, especially in the media, and can be view as “nasty chemicals”, "dangerous", “harmful” or even just “evil”. But these treatments to help manage pest issues are an important part of IPM, and just like any tool, the way they are used contributes to their efficacy and safety. You may personally use pesticides or you may have others using them at your site and you are supervising the program. How much do you know about those products and how are you using them? It is Pesticide Safety Education Month so here’s me doing my part to help.
A brief history:
Pesticides have been used for thousands of years. Literally. As soon as we, humans, started cultivating our food and storing it, the pests started taking advantage of that. There are weevils and cigarette beetles that were found in Egyptian tombs. The first recorded use of a pesticide was from approximately 4500 years ago by ancient Sumerians. They used sulfur compounds to treat insect pests. It wasn’t just foods that were susceptible to pest problems, we also had to contend with lice, bed bugs, ticks, and other biting pests that could transmit diseases. In the early 1900’s there were great advances in chemistry and pesticides went from being derived from organic sources to more synthetic substances. (No, I’m not going to delve into DDT, there’s lots of great info out there if you want to read more.) Today, for urban and structural pests, we have highly effective baits, insect growth regulators, and the knowledge of using non-chemical means to enhance the effectiveness of pesticide applications.
Don’t fear it:
When I worked for a large pest control company, I was given media training and was told to never say the word pesticide. It was always “treatment” or “product” because (I was told) people had a negative reaction to the term and it was scary. There are plenty of people that don’t like pesticides for any number of reasons. However, pesticides are important for so many more reasons. Pesticides protect our food, our structures, and our health. Between the farm and the grocery store, pests can destroy and contaminate the foods we want to eat. Imagine if we didn’t control flour beetles and our flour, cereals, and pasta came with extra visitors. Would we be willing to buy meats that were infested with fly larvae? Termites and other wood destroying insects can severely impact our homes and structures. Mosquitoes, ticks, and other insects carry diseases that still kill millions of people every year. Pesticides, as part of the overall treatment plan, help protect us from this damage.
But respect it:
The definition of a pesticide is anything that claims to kill, control, repel, or mitigate a pest. The intent is to reduce the population of harmful pests. Non-target effects can happen when pesticides aren’t used correctly. In the US, the Environmental Protection Agency regulates pesticides and determines the safe and effective allowed uses. This is based on scientific research and looks at the efficacy against the specified pest, and safety concerns against non-target organisms. When pesticides are used improperly, people can get hurt, food can be contaminated, and the environment can be harmed. This is why, as professionals, we choose the right product, target the application, and always follow all label regulations. If you are applying pesticides, overseeing pest control at your site, or applying them at home, safety and proper use should always be at the front of your mind.
And ask for help:
Directly or indirectly, you use pesticides. There are plenty of resources for pesticides when it comes to safety, use, and efficacy. If you applying your own treatments, are you using the best product for the pest and the site? If you are overseeing pest control at your site, do you know what products are being used and if they are the right ones? Do you know the non-chemical tools to employ? Reach out when you have questions.