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A pesticide is any substance or mixture of substances to prevent, destroy, repel, or mitigate any pest. Pests can be insects, mice and other animals, weeds, fungi, or microorganisms like bacteria and viruses. Pesticides include herbicides, fungicides, and various other substances used to control pests. EPA has a pesticide website, www.epa.gov/pesticides/about/index.htm that defines pesticides in more detail.  The University of Nebraska's pesticide website, http://pested.unl.edu/, has some additional background information.

Cotton boll weevil shown on a cotton boll
Cotton boll weevil. Photo courtesy of Agricultural Research Service of theĀ U.S. Department of Agriculture at www.ars.usda.gov/is/graphics/photos
Formosan subterranean termites
Formosan subterranean termites. Photo courtesy of Agricultural Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture at www.ars.usda.gov/is/graphics/photos
Medfly feeding on a bait-dye mixture
Medfly feeding on a bait-dye mixture. Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of Agriculture Photo center at www.usda.gov

Pesticides are useful because they can kill potential disease-causing organisms andĀ control insects, weeds, and other pests, but can pose risks to human health and the environment.

Pesticides have long been an important factor in Florida's agricultural productivity and in protecting public health. At the same time, because of their inherent toxic properties, a number of pesticides can pose risks to human health and the environment. Throughout the years many pesticides have been banned, canceled, or suspended by the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) because of their potential risk to human health. Some of these include DDT, lead arsenate, chlordane, toxaphene, and parathion. More are likely to be cancelled as EPA reviews new data that is being submitted for older chemicals. Farmers, golf course operators, and pest control personnel may still have these cancelled and suspended products in storage as they await the availability of affordable disposal options. However, long term storage of these pesticides can pose unnecessary risks to employees, surrounding communities, and the environment, especially through ground and surface water contamination. The EPA pesticide website at http://www.epa.gov/pesticides has additional information.

There are several reports and incidents that illustrate these potential risks. For example, the EPA has approximately 20 Florida Superfund sites that have pesticides listed as a contaminant of concern (search "Florida" and "Pesticides" for Contaminants of Concern on www.epa.gov). And, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has reported several fatality cases linked to employee pesticide exposure since 1988 (query keyword "pesticide" for fatalities on www.osha.gov). A recent farm tractor fire in north central Florida involving pesticides sickened some of the volunteer firefighters who put out the blaze. In a very sad case, an Iowa boy died in 1994 after eating tablets that he thought were candy but instead turned out to be the pesticide Lindane. The boy had been rummaging around in an outdoor collection bin used by a local charity. These tragic occurrences demonstrate the importance of proper pesticide management and disposal.

Last updated: May 29, 2014

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