Reading a Pesticide Label

— Written By and last updated by Jill Cofer
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PestsPests seem to appear at the most inconvenient of times. Then again, isn’t that part of what makes them a pest in the first place? Controlling a nuisance can usually be done with many different tools, pesticides being just one of them. While there are many types of pesticides used in a variety of situations, they all have one thing in common: they all have a pesticide label. The material covered in the label may be lengthy, technical, and confusing. While it may be tempting to toss out or ignore the label, take into consideration that every instruction on how to use the product is required by law. That’s right, any use of a pesticide in a manner inconsistent with its label is a violation of federal law. Let’s do a general break down of the sections in a label so that reading and referencing them won’t be a chore.

The front cover will have a lot of common information such as the product name, type of pesticide (herbicide, insecticide, etc.), whether you need a license to purchase it (restricted use), the ingredients, and the signal word. The signal word refers to the level of toxicity of that product. Caution signifies low toxicity, warning signifies moderate toxicity, and danger means the product is highly toxic. The next section is the first aid information for accidental exposure to the product. This illustrates steps that should be taken including who to call in case of an emergency. It would be wise to know where this section is and to read it carefully. The Precautionary Statements portion goes further in-depth with the hazards and safety requirements. It is there that you will find hazards to humans and domestic animals, PPE requirements, user safety recommendations, and environmental hazards.

The section that tends to be the most detailed is Directions for Use. Although pesticides tend to have identical wording in some sections, pay special attention to the Application Sites, Timing, Mixing Instructions, Pests Controlled, Application Rates, and other product specific instructions. In cases where you are wanting to grow a different plant, whether it’s a field crop, a garden plant, or turf; make sure you read the Rotational Restrictions. Sometimes residual herbicides have the ability to carry over in the soil which can cause harm to the next plants in line. The Pests Controlled portion will not usually cover every pest that the product controls. Instead, the pests listed there will likely only be the ones most commonly appearing. Make sure the application site is listed on the product. For example, you cannot apply a pesticide intended for your lawn inside your house unless it is specifically written on the label, even though the pest in question may be present in both locations. Typically, the last portion of a label will be the product Safety Data Sheets (SDS). An SDS is designed to provide both workers and emergency personnel with the proper procedures for handling or working with a particular substance. In an emergency the SDS from your label will help medical personnel provide aid, therefore it is important to have the label nearby when using a product.

While there are other parts and details that were not covered in this article, with a little time and experience you will be able to efficiently read through a pesticide label. It is not only important for personal and environmental safety, but also the cost-effectiveness of the product. If you have questions about this subject, contact your local N.C. Cooperative Extension office.