Living With Pesticides II

Some pesticides may be safe enough for untrained, unlicensed homeowners to use. Other pesticides that are highly toxic or can cause harm to the environment require users to be trained and licensed. All users, both unlicensed homeowners and licensed pesticide applicators are legally required to obey the instructions. Instructions are clearly printed on pesticide containers and accompanying documents. The “label” is a legal document. Failure to follow instructions can have tragic results for human health and safety along with legal consequences.

A pesticide company in Utah is facing criminal prosecution for “Unlawful Use of a Registered Pesticide”. In this case, the pest control company was using aluminum phosphide tablets to kill rodents. Aluminum phosphide forms a vapor upon contact with water. The vapor kills problem rodents in their burrows. However, aluminum phosphide is also highly toxic to humans.

The label clearly states that the product is not to be used within 15 feet of a building occupied by humans. It also warns the applicator to check that burrows do not have openings into the building or into utility channels that open into the building. Both these requirements were violated. The pesticide was applied closer than 15 feet to the house. The aluminum phosphide gas entered the home, sickening the parents and 2 oldest children. The youngest children, a 4 year old and a 1 year old died from the toxin.

The maximum penalties for unlawful use of a pesticide in this case are up to 1 year in jail and fines of $100,000 per poisoning incident and up to $500,000 if death results. The company faces additional civil suits for wrongful death.

Pesticides can be beneficial, but they are also capable of great harm. People who use pesticides of any sort must carefully follow the directions.

The pesticide label for Fumitoxin contains the following cautions:

This product may be used out-of-doors only for control of burrowing pests. THIS PRODUCT MUST NOT BE APPLIED INTO A BURROW SYSTEM THAT IS WITHIN 15 FEET (5 METERS) OF A BUILDING THAT IS, OR MAY BE, OCCUPIED BY HUMANS, AND/OR ANIMALS ESPECIALLY RESIDENCES. Document any burrows that open under or into occupied buildings and do not apply to these burrows. In addition, check for any other source through which the gas may enter into occupied buildings as a result of application to burrows. If there is any way gas can move through pipes, conduits etc., from burrows do not treat these burrows. Prior to treating a rodent burrow on a property containing an inhabited structure, the applicant must provide the customer (e.g. tenant, home- owner, or property manager) with a MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) or appropriate sections of the Applicator’s Manual.

Upper: Dead grass (brown) caused by mole tunneling
Lower: Mole "hill" and exit hole

About jjneal

Jonathan Neal is an Associate Professor of Entomology at Purdue University and author of the textbook, Living With Insects (2010). This blog is a forum to communicate about the intersection of insects with people and policy. This is a personal blog. The opinions and materials posted here are those of the author and are in no way connected with those of my employer.
This entry was posted in Environment, Health, Pest Management, Policy. Bookmark the permalink.

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