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Officials: People misusing pesticides endanger environment, themselves

Jesse Smith, owner of Bug Stop Pest Control, a do-it-yourself store in north Phoenix, the single most important advice he gives customers is to read labels. Concerned about misuse of pesticides and herbicides, the Arizona Department of Agriculture is urging consumers to pay closer attention to safety. (Cronkite News Service Photo by David Rookhuyzen)

Jesse Smith, owner of Bug Stop Pest Control, a do-it-yourself store in north Phoenix, the single most important advice he gives customers is to read labels. Concerned about misuse of pesticides and herbicides, the Arizona Department of Agriculture is urging consumers to pay closer attention to safety. (Cronkite News Service Photo by David Rookhuyzen)

At Bug Stop Pest Control, a do-it-yourself pesticide store in north Phoenix, owner Jesse Smith includes commonsense advice with each sale: Don’t spray when windy, wash up after, and – most importantly – read the instructions.

“There’s never a problem if you follow the label,” Smith said.

The Arizona Department of Agriculture, however, is concerned that people aren’t following that advice and are misusing pesticides because of it. In the process, homeowners are harming the environment – and potentially themselves.

Jack Peterson, associate director for the department’s Environmental Services Division, said reading pesticide labels just once isn’t enough. He recommends reading them five times: before purchasing, mixing, applying, storing and disposing.

“We want to make sure they’re reading the label, applying it only to where they can apply it and then following those label directions for rate, precautions and environmental concerns,” Peterson said.

Pesticides include products used on insects, arachnids, weeds, fungi and rodents.

The department issued a news release about pesticide misuse after an incident in which a Mohave County resident put mothballs outside to repel snakes. Mothballs, which are labeled for inside use only, are toxic to small children and pets.

Peterson said all pesticides are labeled for use in specific areas to avoid harming anything beside the target pest.

Also, spraying more than the recommended amount of pesticide can leave the ground temporarily sterile and pollute runoff during storms, he said.

And those applying pesticide often ignore protective clothing and equipment recommended on labels.

“How often have you seen a homeowner put on a pair of rubber gloves?” Peterson said.

Vince Craig, assistant director of compliance and enforcement for the Arizona Office of Pest Management, said misapplication could be a health hazard.

He said even pesticides with benign-sounding active ingredients such as pepper and rosemary can cause allergic reactions in children.

This is a problem in schools, Craig said, as the law says only licensed professionals can spray a classroom, but sometimes teachers and others will try to do it themselves.

Misusing pesticides can result in official action ranging from a cease-and-desist order to fines that can reach $1,000.

Craig said his office has investigated 39 cases in the fiscal year that ended June 30, leading to 18 formal complaints. That’s about normal, he said.

Smith, meanwhile, said he hasn’t heard of any problems with his customers after over 30 years of business because of the directions he gives them.

“We give good advice,” Smith said. “And we try to make sure people follow it.”

Department of Agriculture recommendations on pesticides:

• Read pesticide labels five times: before purchasing, mixing, applying, storing and disposing.
• Only apply pesticides in the specific sites listed on the label.
• Make sure pest control companies are knowledgeable about products and licensed through the Office of Pest Management.
• For questions or concerns about misuse, contact the Office of Pest Management at 602-255-3664 or the Department of Agriculture at 602-542-0901.
•Be aware that an investigation, once started, cannot be stopped until it is completed.

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