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Pesticide Exposures

Exposure and Risk

People are exposed to low levels of pesticides every day. You can be exposed to pesticides in a variety of places including your home, at school, or at work. Pesticides can get inside your body from eating, drinking, breathing them in, and by skin contact.

Different pesticides affect human health in different ways. A wide range of health effects, acute and chronic, are associated with exposures to some pesticides. For example, some pesticides may affect the nervous system, while others may irritate the skin or eyes. Some pesticides may cause cancer and others may affect the endocrine system. The health risks from pesticide exposure depend on the toxicity of the pesticides, the amount a person is exposed to, and the duration and the route of exposure. Evidence suggests that children are at greater risk of illness or injury from exposure to pesticides in general, including effects on brain development.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets requirements on how a pesticide should be used and the precautions that must be taken to limit adverse effects to humans and the environment.

The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) gives the EPA authority to regulate pesticide sales and use. EPA sets regulations for pesticides to certify that they will not cause unreasonable harm to humans or the environment if labeled properly and used accordingly. EPA is responsible for ensuring compliance and enforcing bans on unregistered pesticides.


The most effective way to reduce your exposure to pesticides is to use non-pesticidal control methods to reduce or eliminate pest problems. Integrated pest management, or IPM, is an alternative pest-control method that focuses on not attracting pests by eliminating their source of food, water, and shelter. IPM simply means

  1. Don't attract pests,
  2. Keep them out, and
  3. Get rid of them, if you are sure you have them, with the safest, most effective methods.

Examples of IPM around the home include removing sources of food and water by making sure trash can lids are closed tightly and fixing leaky pipes. Other examples include destroying pest shelters and breeding sites like piles of litter, old tires, or yard waste.

If you decide you must use pesticides:

  1. Read the label first and follow the directions, including following safety requirements and restrictions.
  2. Use protective precautions when handling pesticides by wearing gloves, goggles, respirators or protective clothing when required by the pesticide label.
  3. Wash hands and clothing after handling. Be sure to wash pesticide-contaminated clothing in a separate wash load and not with the regular household laundry.
  4. Remove children, toys, pets and food from the area before applying pesticides.
  5. Avoid spraying pesticides outside on windy days.
  6. Store pesticides out of children's reach.

If you need to purchase pest control services, be sure to check that you are hiring a licensed pesticide applicator. If using a commercial applicator or lawn care service, ask for information about potential risks and safety precautions to take. For more information on pesticide use, please contact your state's Cooperative Extension Office.

Keep the poison control center phone number, 1-800-222-1222, on or near every home telephone and save it on your cell phone. The line is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Read more information about minimizing pesticide exposure from the National Pesticide Information Center.

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