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
San Francisco is habitat for 800,000 people – meeting needs for space to work, play, and learn; for food, water, and air; for community with local flora and fauna. SF Environment provides support for urban agriculture and forestry and green buildings, helping residents and businesses harness environmental opportunities.