Chemical safety isn’t necessary just in the workplace. Your workers may also be using dangerous chemicals outside of work. For example, many workers (and safety supervisors) use weed killers, insecticides and other toxic chemicals in their own backyards. They may think the backyard is a safe haven or that they’re not using enough of the substance to create a danger. But they’re wrong. That’s why your organization’s Hazard Communication Program should focus on the proper storage, use and handling of any dangerous chemicals to which workers are exposed—not just in the workplace but in any environment.
Chemicals in the Garden
It can be quite disheartening to watch your plants fall prey to insects and animals. But what’s a gardener to do? If insects are attacking your plants, you probably use an insecticide. If snails or slugs are eating the leaves, you may use a molluscicide. If mice are feasting on your flower, fruits and vegetables, maybe you use a rodenticide. And if weeds are coming up inside of your flower bed, you may turn to an herbicide.
All of these “-cides” (Latin for “to kill”) can be grouped under the generic term “pesticide.” And what they all have in common is that they are useful chemicals when used “according to label directions.” However, used incorrectly, they also have the potency to do more harm than good.
Chemical Safety—It’s in the Fine Print
An old chemist once gave me some good advice. (And you know what they say about chemists: If you find an old one, he or she has been doing it correctly all these years.)
“Youngster,” he said, “always read the label three times.”
“Three times,” I asked?
“Yes, three times,” he continued. “Read it once when you pick up the bottle; once just before you’re ready to pour it out; and once after you’ve used it. That way, you’ll be certain that you’ve used the correct chemical.”
And the same goes for you. When you pick up a bottle of a pesticide, read the bottle AND all of the fine print to determine if this material will be effective for the particular insect or animal on your particular plant.
Once you’ve determined that it is, you need to understand how to use it. For example:
- Do you make up a solution and drench the plant?
- Do you only spray the foliage?
- Can you use the material near fish?
- If you use it today, when do you next need to apply it?
- If you use it today and the temperature is 90º F will the product work or will you burn your plant?
Safety Rules for the Garden Chemist
When you’re ready to actually use the pesticide, here are a few rules to follow:
- Once you’ve read the label and determined what the correct dosage or concentration is for your plants, mark the bottle with a permanent marker, with the number of ounces of concentrate per gallon of water. This will save you time looking up the correct dosage in the future.
- If you have small children or pets running around your home, be sure to keep the chemical bottles on special shelves in your garden shed and away from everyday essentials, especially any human or pet food stuffs.
- Mark all of your chemical containers for the chemicals they will be used for. If you have an insecticide, mark the container and use that container for only insecticides. Herbicide containers, if not properly rinsed, could contain sufficient quantity that could damage your plants when mixed with a different type of pesticide.
- Measure your concentrations. Get teaspoon and tablespoon measures. Mark these teaspoons and tablespoons with the word “poison” and keep them locked in the garden shed – away from the family and all food stuffs! Use them to ensure that if the product says one teaspoon per gallon, that’s what you’ve measured out.
- Use PPE. These chemicals are designed to kill something and if you are not careful to read and follow the manufacturers instructions that something could be you. (See my article on PPE in the Garden.)
Disposing of Pesticides
When dealing with pesticides, it’s very important that you mix only what you need and that you use what you mix, because it’s difficult to properly dispose of excess pesticides. If you over-mix, however, the EPA recommends the following:
- The best way to dispose of small amounts of excess pesticides is to use them – apply them – according to the directions on the label. If you cannot use them, ask your neighbors whether they have a similar pest control problem and can use them.
- If all the remaining pesticide cannot be properly used, check with your local solid waste management authority, environmental agency or health department to find out whether your community has a household hazardous waste collection program or a similar program for getting rid of unwanted, leftover pesticides. These authorities can also inform you of any local requirements for pesticide waste disposal.
- To identify your local solid waste agency, look in the government section of your phone book under categories such as solid waste, public works, or garbage, trash, or refuse collection or you can call 1-800-CLEANUP (in the U.S.) or on the web at http://earth911.com.
- Before disposing of your pesticide containers, check with your state or local waste agency first. State and local laws regarding pesticide disposal may be stricter than the Federal requirements on the label. DO NOT reuse empty pesticide containers. And if the container is partly filled, be sure you supply that information to the waste agency.
- Don’t pour leftover pesticides down the sink, into the toilet or down a sewer or street drain. Pesticides may interfere with the operation of wastewater treatment systems or pollute waterways. Many municipal systems are not equipped to remove all pesticide residues. If pesticides reach waterways, they may harm fish, plants, and other living things.
Here’s more information from the EPA on the disposal of household-use pesticides.
In any neighborhood, you’re sure to find several amateur garden chemists. Even organic gardeners occasionally use chemicals. But chemicals are chemicals and whether you use them in the garden or in the workplace, you must exercise caution.
Note: In the United States, before any chemical can be sold on the open market as a “-cide,” the manufacturer has to register the product with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) at 7 U.S.C. §136 et seq. (1996). FIFRA regulations require the licensing of the producer and the product so that when it is used according to specifications [it] "will not generally cause unreasonable adverse effects on the environment.'' (http://www.epa.gov/lawsregs/laws/fifra.html).