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What is a pesticide?

A pesticide is any substance or mixture of substances intended for:

•             preventing,

•             destroying,

•             repelling, or

•             Mitigating any pest.

What is a pest?

Pests are living organisms that occur where they are not wanted or that cause damage to crops or humans or other animals. Examples include:

•             insects,

•             mice and other animals,

•             unwanted plants (weeds),

•             fungi,

•             Microorganisms such as bacteria and viruses.

Many household products are pesticides. All of these common products are considered pesticides:

•             Cockroach sprays and baits

•             Insect repellents for personal use.

•             Rat and other rodent poisons.

•             Flea and tick sprays, powders, and pet collars.

•             Kitchen, laundry, and bath disinfectants and sanitizers.

•             Products that kill mold and mildew.

•             Some lawn and garden products, such as weed killers.

•             Some swimming pool chemicals.

By their very nature, most pesticides create some risk of harm - Pesticides can cause harm to humans, animals, or the environment because they are designed to kill or otherwise adversely affect living organisms.

At the same time, pesticides are useful to society - Pesticides can kill potential disease-causing organisms and control insects, weeds, and other pests.

Biologically-based pesticides, such as pheromones and microbial pesticides, are becoming increasingly popular and often are safer than traditional chemical pesticides.

Human Health Issues

Pesticides are designed to (in most cases) kill pests. Many pesticides can also pose risks to people. However, in many cases the amount of pesticide people are likely to be exposed to is too small to pose a risk. To determine risk, one must consider both the toxicity and hazard of the pesticide and the likelihood of exposure. A low level of exposure to a very toxic pesticide may be no more dangerous than a high level of exposure to a relatively low toxicity pesticide

Using Pesticides Safely

Safely using pesticides depends on using the appropriate pesticide and using it correctly. The label on the pesticide container provides instructions for use of the pesticide. It also includes warnings that are intended to let the user know how to prevent harmful exposures, such as by wearing protective clothing, keeping children and pets out of the treated area for certain periods, and so on. It is very important to Read the Label First before using a pesticide.

Pesticides and Public Health

There are a variety of regulatory programs and information sources related to protecting public health.  This page focuses on public health problems caused by pests and the role that preventive measures and pesticides may play in protecting people from these health problems.

•             Asthma and Allergies – Indoor household pests such as cockroaches can contribute to asthma and allergies.  In addition to registering products to control these pests, EPA also provides information to the public about safely using these products in homes and schools.

•             Microbial Contamination – Various microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses, and protozoan, can cause microbial contamination in hospitals, public health clinics, and food processing facilities.

•             Avian Flu – Avian flu, sometimes called bird flu, is an infection that occurs naturally and chiefly in birds. Infections with these viruses can occur in humans, but the risk is generally low for most people. Sanitizers or disinfectants that may be used to kill avian influenza virus on inanimate surfaces and to help prevent the spread of avian flu viruses. These products are typically used by the poultry industry to disinfect their facilities.

•             Prions – Certain proteins found in cells of the central nervous system of humans and animals may exist in abnormal, infectious forms called “prions.”  Prions share many characteristics of viruses, and may cause fatal diseases.

Why be concerned: Pests such as insects, rodents, and microbes can cause and spread a variety of diseases that pose a serious risk to public health.

What You can do: There are a variety of ways that you can control pests and the risks they may pose.  Use the links below to learn more about pests, public health, pesticides, and actions you can take to safely control pests and protect your health.

Prevent Pests

•             Making sure food and food scraps are tightly sealed and garbage is regularly removed from the home.

•             Not leaving pet food and water out overnight. Also, if you apply pesticides, pet food and water should be removed from the area.

•             Fixing leaky plumbing and looking for other sources of water, such as trays under house plants.

•             Eliminating standing water in rain gutters, buckets, plastic covers, bird baths, fountains, wading pools, potted plant trays, or any other containers where mosquitoes can breed.

•             Keeping swimming pool water treated and circulating, and draining temporary pools of water or filling them with dirt.

•             Closing off entryways and hiding places (e.g., caulking cracks and crevices around cabinets or baseboards).

•             Making sure window and door screens are "bug tight."

•             Replacing your outdoor lights with yellow "bug" lights which tend to attract fewer mosquitoes than ordinary lights. However, the yellow lights are NOT repellents.


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