Pesticides: Follow label directions to the letter


When using pesticides, whether organic or conventional, the best thing you can do for yourself and those around you is to read and understand the label. The label and attached pamphlet provide important information on how and when to use the product and what to use it on.

The obvious things on the front label are the trade name, a signal word on toxicity, manufacturer’s name and “Keep Out of Reach of Children.” In smaller print will be the name of the active ingredient (the chemical that does the killing or inhibits pests and diseases) and the percentage of the active ingredient(s). The additional information on the back label or attached pamphlet will contain instructions on the use of the product.

The signal word on the label on nearly every pesticide will be “caution,” “warning” or “danger.” It is not related to how well the product works against the listed pest, but is intended to quickly inform about the product’s toxicity to the user. “Caution” means the pesticide is slightly toxic if ingested, absorbed through the skin or inhaled. It may also cause slight eye and skin irritation. “Warning” indicates moderate toxicity if eaten, absorbed through the skin or inhaled and can cause moderate irritation to eyes and skin. “Danger” indicates the pesticide can cause irreversible damage or death through contact. If a choice is available, select pesticides with a “caution” label first to solve your problems before selecting those with a more toxic signal words.

How many of you take the time to fully read and understand the label? You might ask, “what is the big deal, I spray roaches with flying insect spray and it works?” There are some of you who claim that you don’t use pesticides in your garden since you are following organic protocol, using only items labeled “organic” or mixing solutions made from common household products to control pests and diseases. Others believe that since it is out of a spray can purchased at the supermarket, it can’t be that bad. However, the definition of a pesticide is to kill pests. This is true for synthetic or manmade pesticides, organic labeled pesticides and chemical cocktail mixes you make from household items. Using the appropriate pesticide will keep you and your family safer and help keep the environment healthier. It will also reduce the possibility of the development of resistance to a pesticides.

The use of pesticides is regulated by the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act, or FIFRA, which authorizes the Environmental Protection Agency to oversee the program. FIFRA also regulates the sale, use and distribution of all pesticides in the U.S. Other important legislations are the Federal, Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, or FFDCA, and the Food Quality Protection Act, or FQPA. The FFDCA set limits on pesticide residues allowed on food and feed products. Residue is also known as tolerance level. The FQPA increases the safety standard for new pesticides used on food or in food production and requires the periodic review of older pesticides to determine if tolerance levels are consistent with new data on its use and impact on the environment. This is why you may not find the pesticide you used to buy and found effective. Play it safe, use pesticides wisely.

For more information on this and other gardening topics, visit the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources website at ctahr.hawaii.edu/Site/Info.aspx or visit a local Cooperative Extension Service office.

Russell Nagata is the Hawaii County administrator of the University of Hawaii at Manoa College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources. He can be reached at russelln@hawaii.edu.