Pesticide Hazards

Pesticides are designed to kill living things. They are usually targeted to affect very specific groups of organisms, such as plants, fungi, or insects, and sometimes their activity is even more specific, affecting only certain genera or even species.  However, pesticides generally carry more potential hazards to humans, pets, and the environment than many other common chemicals, and it’s worth understanding these hazards.

The active ingredients in pesticides—the chemicals used to control the target pest—must be listed on the label by law. However, the so-called "inert" ingredients are not required to be listed in most cases.  Inert ingredients are used as carriers for the active ingredients, to help dissolve them, make them easier to apply, or to preserve them. But just because an ingredient is labeled "inert" doesn't mean it isn't harmful - in fact, some are quite dangerous.   The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has published a list of chemicals used as inerts, but the list doesn't indicate which products contain these inerts.

Pests can also pose hazards to people; some insects and mammals are vectors of  deadly diseases, weeds can create fire hazards,  and vegetation can create traffic hazards. Pests also have environmental impacts, for example, invasive (pest) species are a primary cause of global species extinction. There is no question that pests must sometimes be managed, and  even when integrated pest management (IPM) is applied, prevention and non-chemical management techniques aren't always enough to adequately control pests. In such cases, pesticides are required as a last resort.

In an effort to expand the use of alternative methods of pest management, SF Environment has compiled a list of resources (below) to educate consumers on the hazards of pesticides and the least toxic alternatives to them that are just as effective—and safer to their health and the environment.

Additional Information for Pesticide Hazards

PAN Pesticide Database
One of the most useful online databases for quickly looking up hazards of active ingredients or pesticide products.
Pesticide resources
Extensive resources on all aspects of pesticide toxicology, worker health, and exposure
Pesticide Fact Sheets
Factsheets on pesticide hazards from the advocacy group Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides
EPA Inert Ingredient Information
Information on regulations governing "inert" ingredients in pesticide products
EPA Pesticide Product Label System
US EPA database of pesticide product labels.