Understanding the Pesticide Label
The label identifies the chemicals in the container and uses signal words to state the toxicity of the pesticide to humans. The label also lists protective equipment needed for proper handling and use of chemicals. This may include masks, gloves, and respirators. Do not take chances with your health - follow the safety requirements listed on the label.
The label lists the registered uses for the pesticide that are approved by the Environmental Protection Agency. The pesticide label is the result of years of research and development. The statements on the label must be reviewed and approved by the EPA before the product can be sold. EPA registration does not guarantee or imply the safety of a pesticide, however. If the intended use is not listed on the label, do not use the product. You are legally responsible for any accident or loss resulting from using materials that are not approved. The recommended doses and directions for application also appear on every label. Most labels state which other pesticides can be mixed with the pesticide (i.e., the compatibility with other pesticides). Phytotoxicity information is also included to let you know if a pesticide is likely to injure plants.
The label is the law! Pesticide users are forbidden to use a pesticide in a way contrary to its labeling. Any use not indicated on the label is prohibited.
The instructions on the label are like a prescription: they state how much pesticide to mix; how, when, and where to apply it; and precautions to be observed. The label also lists specific organisms to be protected -- bees, fish, and so forth. Be aware of sensitive areas that must be protected from pesticide drift. Reread the label each time you use a pesticide. It is the responsibility of the applicator to comply with all this information. Do not rely on your memory!
Parts of the Label
- Product, brand, or trade names. Each manufacturer has a brand name for its product. Different manufacturers may use different names for the same active ingredient. The brand name almost always appears on the label in large print. Such names as Sevin, Bayleton, and Dyrene are trade names that refer to a specific chemical product. Other trade names such as Raid, Ortho, and Agway do not identify a single product, active ingredient, or special use.
- Type of pesticide. The type of pesticide is usually listed on the front panel of the pesticide label. This short statement usually indicates the pests that it will control. For example, insecticide for control of certain insects on fruit trees, soil fungicide, herbicide for control of annual broadleaf weeds, or multipurpose fruit-tree spray.
- Classification. Each use of every pesticide is classified by the EPA as either "general" or "restricted." Every pesticide product that has been restricted must carry the statement. "RESTRICTED-USE PESTICIDE. For sale and use only by certified applicators or persons under their direct supervision and only for those uses covered by the certified applicator's certification," in a prominent place at the top of the front panel of the pesticide label.
- Ingredient statement. Each pesticide label must list what is in the product. This list is written so that you can quickly find what the active ingredients are and the percentage of each ingredient. Ingredient statements must list the official chemical names, common names for active ingredients, or both. Inert ingredients need not be named, but the label must show what percentage of the contents they comprise.
- Common name -- because pesticides may have complex chemical names, many are given a shorter common name. Only EPA-approved common names may appear on the label. Examples are Bacillus thuringiensis var. kurstaki (Bt), carbaryl, malathion, and ferbam. When a common name is not available, the chemical or biorational name must be used in the active ingredients section of the label. If it is overly complex or noninformative a descriptive name is permitted. Read these names with care, particularly in accident cases. The chemical names of entirely different insecticides may differ only slightly. Also one chemical may have two or more correct chemical names that are alternative ways of writing the formula.
- Signal words and symbols. Almost every label contains a signal word to give you a clue to how dangerous the product is to humans. The signal word must appear in large letters on the front panel of the pesticide label. It is usually next to the statement, "Keep out of reach of children, which must appear on every pesticide label.
- First aid or statement of practical treatment (may be on side panel or front). This tells you the first-aid treatments recommended in case of poisoning. An emergency assistance phone number may he provided near the signal word or precautionary statements. For Long Island residents, the poison control center can be reached at (516) 542-2323.
- Precautionary statements. These include the signal word, warnings about keeping children and pets out of treated areas, and statements about protective clothing and equipment. You should follow all advice that appears on the label dealing with protective clothing and equipment. However, the lack of any statement or mention of only one piece of equipment does not rule out the need for additional protection. Goggles, chemical-resistant gloves and footwear, coveralls, and even a respirator are good equipment to use when applying any pesticide. If you will be in prolonged contact with a chemical or are using an overhead sprayer, you should wear a chemical-resistant protective suit, hat, and respirator.
- Hazards (often part of precautionary statement). Hazards to humans, domestic animals, and wildlife; environmental hazards; and physical or chemical hazards are listed. The label may indicate that the product causes undesirable effects to the environment, or it may indicate toxicity to bees, birds, fish, and crustaceans. The label may also indicate limitations imposed to protect endangered species.
- Reentry statement (often part of classification statement). Some pesticide labels contain a reentry precaution. This statement tells you how much time must pass before people can reenter a treated area without appropriate protective clothing.
- Directions for use. Pesticide labels must carry directions for use. These include general directions for mixing, directions for applying, and compatibility with other pesticides. The directions also list sites where the pesticide can be used legally (such as households, interior plantscapes, or outdoors only) and/or the crops (such as corn or apples) on which it can be used and the name of the pests controlled. The amount of pesticide to use and any restrictions or limitations are also listed.
- If your intended use is not listed on the label, do not use the pesticide! To do so would be a violation of federal law. You might injure plants or crops, you might leave unsafe pesticide residues on crops, and you might not control the pest. If an accident results from an application that is not listed on the label, the user is liable.
- Days to harvest (part of directions for use). Labels for agricultural pesticides may list the minimum number of days that must pass between the last pesticide application and crop harvest. These intervals are set by the EPA to allow time for the pesticide to break down in the environment, thus preventing illegal residues on food.
- Storage and disposal. All pesticide labels contain general instructions for the appropriate storage and disposal of the pesticide and its container.
- Manufacturer. The law requires the maker or distributor of a product to include the name and address of the manufacturer.
Tom Kowalsick, Extension Educator - Horticulture, Cornell Cooperative Extension - Suffolk County, NY