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Pesticide Exposures

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

Insecticides are used in agriculture, public health, industry, businesses, and households. They are applied in different ways including sprays and baits. The flea and tick products used on cats and dogs are a type of insecticide.

  • 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.


People can be exposed to insecticides through direct application in the home, by inhaling an insecticide in an area where it was recently applied, or through eating contaminated food or drinking contaminated water.


To decrease the risk of exposure to insecticides, carefully read and follow any instructions on the product label. Choosing an appropriate targeted insecticide can minimize the risk of harm to non-targeted living things. The most effective way to reduce risk for insecticide health effects is to use integrated pest management and avoid using pesticides. Read more tips from the National Pesticide Information Center.

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