Any product meant to kill (weeds or insects) surely cannot be considered entirely safe; reason dictates that, at the very least, certain precautions should be followed.
Skin — the largest organ in the human body — is porous, effectively absorbing between 29 and 91% (averaging 64%) of solvents and volatile organic compounds to which it’s exposed, according to a study published by the American Journal of Public Health.
“Just because a product is available for homeowners doesn’t mean it is without risk of harm when not used correctly,” said Meg McGrath, associate professor of plant pathology at Cornell University.
• Read the label: “First and foremost, before you buy any product, you ought to look at the precautions on the label,” McGrath said.
Some labels warn that people and pets should not enter the area of application for a specified period, which could be four hours or even 48 hours. Bug sprays, those insecticides that are meant to be used on the body, include warnings to use only in areas with good air circulation, McGrath noted. “You don’t want to be putting those on in your house; there’s a reason there’s a precaution.”
According to the National Pesticide Information Center, there are three words consumers should look for on pesticide labels: CAUTION, WARNING and DANGER. They are like code words denoting each product’s specific level of toxicity: Products marked “Caution” are lowest in toxicity; “Warning” denotes medium toxicity; and “Danger” indicates the product is among the most toxic.
• Protect yourself: Just as analgesic creams applied to the skin can penetrate into the body to ease the pain of muscle spasms, pesticides and other harmful chemicals — even organic ones — can be absorbed through the skin and cause harm.
“Definitely wear shoes, socks and long pants,” McGrath said. “Some would say wear gloves and even use a respirator, but it’s not likely a home gardener would get hold of one.”
Copper, a fungicide often used by organic gardeners, for instance, is damaging to the eyes, McGrath pointed out: “If it gets into your eyes it could cause serious damage.” That’s why the label advises wearing protective eyewear when handling the product.
• Practice integrative pest management: This entails using the least harmful methods first and escalating — incrementally — only if necessary. For instance, if ants are getting into the house, wipe them up with a soapy sponge, refrain from leaving food on the counter or dirty dishes in the sink, and keep surfaces clean. Repair holes in window screens, caulk cracks to seal them, and keep mulch and other organic matter several feet away from the foundation of your home. For carpenter ants, replace decaying wood inside and outside of the house.
If that doesn’t work, escalate to traps or baits, placing them in areas where you’ve seen activity. Only if traps fail should chemical sprays be considered, and they should be applied at the lowest recommended rate.
— Jessica Damiano, Newsday