A Guide to Safe, Effective Pesticide Use

Josh McGillCEU, Pesticides

By Danielle S. Williams
Editor’s note: This article grants one continuing education unit (CEU) in the Core category toward the renewal of a Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services restricted-use pesticide license when the accompanying test is submitted and approved.

Pesticides are vital tools in agriculture that help protect crops from pests and diseases. Pesticide use must be managed responsibly to ensure the safety of humans, wildlife and the environment. One crucial aspect of responsible pesticide use is understanding and interpreting the pesticide label. These labels provide essential information on proper handling, application and safety precautions. Labels also give instructions on using the product effectively.

A pesticide label is the information on or attached to the pesticide container. It is more than just a piece of paper; it is a legal document. The term “label” is defined as “the written, printed, or graphic matter on, or attached to, the pesticide or device or any of its containers or wrappers.” Many applicators are familiar with the phrase “the label is the law.” That is because this document is a contract between the product manufacturer, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the end user. Using a pesticide in a way that is inconsistent with its label is a violation of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). It is the end user’s responsibility to use the product properly. 

All pesticide products must be registered with the EPA, and each product is given a unique registration number. According to FIFRA, there are four different types of pesticide registration:

  • Section 3 – The product has a standard registration (the most common pesticide registration).
  • Section 18 – The product has been given an emergency exemption due to an urgent need to control a pest or disease, and no suitable registered alternatives are available. These exemptions are typically time-limited and granted under strict conditions.
  • Section 24(c) – The product has been registered based on a special local need (SLN). SLN registrations are granted when a certain region or area has unique pest control needs that can’t be addressed with existing registered pesticides.
  • Section 25(b) – The product has been exempted from registration because it poses minimal risk to humans and the environment.


Name and Ingredient Statement
The brand, trade or product name identifies and markets the product. It is found on the front panel of the pesticide label. For example, in Figure 1, the brand name of the pesticide is Admire Pro. Different manufacturers may use different brand names to market products, even if the same pesticide active ingredient is used.

pesticide label
Figure 1. An example of the front panel of a pesticide label

The ingredient statement, also normally found on the front panel of the label, identifies the name and percentage weight of each active ingredient. The active ingredients, identified by the common name and the chemical name, are the chemicals responsible for killing, repelling or controlling the target pest. In Figure 1, imidacloprid is the common name of the active ingredient. The chemical name follows with the various letters and numbers that describe the chemical structure.

In addition to the active ingredients, the total percentage of inert or inactive ingredients will also be included on the label. These are considered proprietary information and not named.

Use Classification
The EPA is required to classify pesticides for either general use or restricted use, based on the toxicity of the product, how it will be used and the effect of the pesticide on the environment. General-use pesticides are usually less toxic or less environmentally hazardous than restricted-use pesticides. When a pesticide is classified as restricted, the label will state “Restricted Use Pesticide” at the top of the front panel (Figure 2). To purchase and apply restricted-use pesticides, a person must be certified and licensed in the state of Florida or work under the direct supervision of a certified applicator.

pesticide label
Figure 2. Example of a restricted-use pesticide statement that would be found at the top of the front panel of a label

Child Hazard Warning
The front panel of every pesticide label must have the statement “KEEP OUT OF REACH OF CHILDREN” due to poisoning being a major cause of injury to children.

Signal Words and Symbols
A pesticide label must also display a signal word on the front panel of the label to identify the relative toxicity of the product. The signal word is based on the entire contents of the product, not just the active ingredients. Signal words are:

  • DANGER: Highly toxic
  • WARNING: Moderately toxic
  • CAUTION: Slightly toxic

Pesticides that are highly toxic and likely to cause acute illness through oral, dermal or inhalation exposure have DANGER as the signal word. They will also carry the word POISON printed in red along with the skull and crossbones symbol.

Statement of Practical Treatment
The statement of practical treatment, or first aid statement, describes what to do if a person is exposed to the pesticide. Applicators should be familiar with this section before using a product, and it should be readily available in case of an emergency.

Hazards to Humans and Domestic Animals
This section of the label includes statements indicating specific hazards, routes of pesticide exposure and precautions to avoid human and animal injury. Examples of statements in this section include:

  • “Harmful if absorbed through skin or swallowed.”
  • “Causes moderate eye irritation.”
  • “Avoid contact with skin, eyes, or clothing.”

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
This section of the label contains specific instructions about the type of clothing that must be worn during the handling and mixing process. The required PPE may vary depending on the task (Figure 3). The PPE listed is the minimum protection that should be worn while handling the pesticide.

pesticide label
Figure 3. A sample pesticide label requiring different PPE for applicators and mixer/loaders

Environmental Hazard Statement
This section of the label describes a product’s potential hazards to the environment, including soil, water, air, wildlife, fish and nontarget plants. Endangered species protection information may also be mentioned here. Examples of environmental hazard statements include:

  • “This product is highly toxic to bees.”
  • “This product is toxic to fish, aquatic invertebrates, and plants.”
  • “Do not apply where runoff is likely to occur.”

Directions for Use
This is the bulk of the pesticide label and typically begins with the statement: “It is a violation of federal law to use this product in a manner inconsistent with its labeling.” This section provides detailed instructions on how to correctly apply the pesticide, including application rate, timing, methods and frequency. It specifies the target pests, recommended application rates and the appropriate timing for application. Applying a pesticide to a site not listed on its label is illegal.

Products intended for use in agriculture will have an “Agricultural Use Requirements” box included in this section that will contain information related to the Worker Protection Standard, 40 CFR Part 170 (Figure 4). 

pesticide label
Figure 4. Example of an Agricultural Use Requirements box found on a pesticide label

Storage and Disposal
Each pesticide has general storage and disposal instructions. Most pesticide labels will contain a general statement to the effect of “do not contaminate water, food, or feed by storage, disposal, or cleaning of equipment” and “store in original containers only.” This section of the label provides guidance on how to store the product safely, including temperature requirements, shelf-life and precautions to prevent contamination. It also outlines guidelines for disposing of unused pesticides or empty containers to prevent environmental harm.

The primary objective of the pesticide label is to provide users with the necessary information to handle, apply and store pesticides safely. Proper interpretation and adherence to pesticide labels can minimize health risks, prevent environmental contamination and maximize the effectiveness of the product. It is ultimately the applicator’s responsibility to ensure pesticides are being applied safely and effectively.

Source: Applying Pesticides Correctly, 7th Edition by F. Fishel

Danielle S. Williams is a University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension commercial horticulture agent in Quincy.

To request a hard copy of the article and test, or if you have questions regarding this article, test or CEUs, contact Ethan Carter at ethancarter@ufl.edu or call 850-482-9620. Please allow two weeks to process your CEU request.

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