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Pesticide Exposures

The term pesticide applies to many different chemicals used to control pests.

Pesticides may be categorized according to the type of pest they control or by the source material in the pesticide. The Tracking Network has data on the following types of pesticides.


Disinfectants are also called antimicrobials. These products are designed to kill or slow the growth of bacteria, viruses, and fungi, like mold or mildew.

Many household cleaning products are in fact pesticides. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates disinfectant pesticides. If a disinfectant product is a pesticide, it will be identified as such on the label.

Look for this information on the label and make sure that you do not use the product on your body. Some disinfectants may be harmful if eaten, touched or inhaled. Disinfectants should be used on hard surfaces and objects, not on people or animals.

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Fumigation is a pest control method in which a pesticide gas or vapor is released into the air or injected into the soil to kill or eliminate pests. Fumigant pesticides are also used on grains and crops post-harvest to reduce insects, ticks and mites, nematodes, slugs and snails, and fungal diseases.

The most effective way to reduce risk for fumigant health effects is to use integrated pest management and avoid using pesticides. If you decide to use a fumigant, it is essential to be aware of the hazards and to use the product carefully.

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Fungicides kill or slow the growth of fungi and their spores. They can be used on plants or other surfaces where mold or mildew grow. Preventing fungal growth is the most effective way to prevent exposure to fungicides. Read tips for preventing fungal diseases in plants and garden sanitation.


Herbicides are designed to kill plants, usually for controlling weeds. There are sub-categories of herbicides. Some are used more often, like glyphosates, and others are more toxic and present a greater risk from exposure, like paraquat.

  • Chlorophenoxy Herbicides- These herbicides are often mixed into commercial fertilizers to control growth of broadleaf weeds in a variety of crops.
  • Triazines- This group of pesticides includes atrazine, simazine, and propazine as well as their three chlorinated degradates, or breakdown products. They are often used in crop production and home lawn care.
  • Glyphosate- This type of herbicide is frequently used by home gardeners and by people and institutions trying to kill broadleaf weeds and grasses and to control invasive plants, especially those known to compete with commercial crops. Glyphosate is one of the most widely used pesticides in the United States today.
  • Paraquat/Diquat- Paraquat is a restricted-use pesticide in most forms for most uses in the United States. It is widely used in agriculture and has high potential for misuse and unintentional and intentional poisonings. Diquat is often used to control weeds in ponds and is less toxic than paraquat but can cause neurologic damage, compared to paraquat, which concentrates in lung tissue and causes pulmonary damage.


Insecticides are chemicals used to control insects by killing them. They are classified based on their structure and function.

  • Boric Acid- This type of pesticide comes in many forms and has many uses. It is a combination of boron and other elements. The toxicity depends on the amount of boron in the product. In addition to controlling insects, boric acid can be used to control growth of molds, fungi and weeds. Boric acid is low in toxicity but it can still cause irritation to the skin or eyes and nausea, vomiting, stomach aches and diarrhea if ingested.
  • Carbamates/Organophosphates: These pesticides are highly toxic to insects. They can be applied directly to crops or to soil. People may be exposed by inhaling the pesticide in areas where the insecticide was recently applied, or by eating contaminated food or drinking contaminated water. These pesticides can damage the nervous system, and some are suspected to cause cancer. Residential uses for most organophosphates were banned by EPA because they posed unreasonable risks to children.
  • Organochlorine- This group of pesticides is used in agricultural settings to kill and repel insects. Examples of these pesticides include DDT, methoxychlor, chlordane, and lindane. Many of these were banned in the United States because of their effects on the human nervous system. However, some are still registered and in use. Organochlorines can persist and accumulate in the environment for a long time.
  • Pyrethoids/Pyrethrins/Piperonyls- These insecticides are used widely in households, agriculture, on pets, and in mosquito control. While they are generally less toxic to mammals than some other insecticides, they can still have harmful health effects.
  • Baits and gels- Insect baits and gels attract the insect to eat something containing an insecticide. They come in a variety of forms, and can be used for ants, cockroaches or other insects inside the home. It is important to place them where children and pets will not have access to them.


Repellents are products applied to surfaces that discourage pests from landing or climbing on that surface. Repellents include bug sprays applied to the skin, moth balls, and any other substance used for repelling a pest. Insect repellents are used to protect people from serious diseases carried by mosquitos and ticks. CDC recommends a variety of effective repellents.

  • Insect Repellents- Products that are applied to the skin or other surface to discourage insects from landing on that surface. This includes mosquito and tick sprays.
  • Moth/Animal Repellents- Products that are used to repel moths or other animal pests such as mothballs.
  • Other- Any other product that is used to discourage a pest from infesting.

For the safe and effective use of pesticide products, always read the product label before using the product. Apply just enough repellent to cover exposed skin and/or clothing. Read more safety tips from the CDC.

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Rodenticides are pesticides that kill rodents. Examples of rodents include mice, rats, squirrels, woodchucks, chipmunks, porcupines, nutria, and beavers. All mammals, including rodents, humans, dogs and cats, are affected by rodenticides in similar ways.

Rodenticide baits may be attractive to children and pets, so they should always be used or stored out of their reach. Tamper-resistant bait stations should be used for further precaution. The most effective way to reduce risk for rodenticide health effects is to use integrated pest management and avoid using pesticides. Other options for controlling rodents include eliminating rodents' sources of food and access to the home.

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