November 1994 - Volume I, Issue 11

Pesticide Issues and Public Safety-Risk Assessment

David M. Kopec, Extension Turfgrass Specialist

Gone are the days when any pesticide can be applied in unsafe fashion to the operator and the public at large. This is true for agriculture and especially, turf. Lines have been drawn between the public and the users, but what the public often forgets to realize is that the public is the user, in both agricultural and turf settings. Advocacy groups represent both sides of the issues. However, certain facts remain. These include:

* that most pesticides are applied by certified applicators,

* many pesticides are short lived and do not persist to the extent that some of the previous used pesticides did,

* there are less numbers of actual "active ingredients" used in the market place today than twenty years ago,

* stringent application guidelines exist for pesticides in both agriculture and turf settings.

The public is concerned with risk. Risk is quantitative and not a simple yes or no issue. Risk is defined as a probability of hazard/safeguard which is the potential for injury to occur. The value of risk is essentially a "fact" in itself which can be calculated with some degree of certainty. The risks are minimized when the hazard is low (use of a pesticide with a low LD50 or low persistency) and safeguards are high (protective clothing, observed re-entry times, use of pre-packaged formulations, etc.).

The perception of "pesticides" being totally poisonous and public view of a spray technician in a safety suit further aggravates the problem.

As a case example, I was contacted by a newspaper last spring regarding a protest (complaint) about a pesticide application made on public grounds. Some people had vehemently protested that a pesticide was being sprayed, since they spotted a spray technician finishing a application that morning. I gathered as many facts as I could and agreed to meet with a newspaper reporter. I found out what chemical was applied (a pre-emergent herbicide) and obtained MSDS and product label sheets. The critical information regarding label rates, required clothing, personal risk precautions, toxicity (LD50) and pertinent information was outlined for the reporter. The facts regarding use of this product were as follows:

1) The product had a LD50 of 5040 mg/Kg.

2) In order for injury to occur to someone from the application of this product, a 150 lb. person would have to eat around 32,560 square feet of turf with the accompanying soil, assuming it was applied at the one time maximum label rate.

3) This products major form of uptake is from the powder concentrate. It was applied as a spray solution (which voids inhalation uptake).

4) The applicator wore safety clothing during all phases (mixing, loading, application, etc.).

Bearing these facts, the public was at little risk from the operation and all of the information I just explained is public information. I continued to explain toxicity to the reporter (who was actually an advocate for the public perception). The reporter was provided the table below and was without expression after learning the toxicity values for aspirin, coffee and table salt. To the best of my knowledge, the article was never written.

Knowledge is power, especially when used incorrectly. Be safe, be smart, follow label directions and only use pesticides when necessary.

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