Understanding the Pesticide Label
Department of Agronomy
Missouri Department of Agriculture
Pest problems occur in many different settings from agricultural to commercial and residential. Many times a pesticide will be chosen as part of the management plan for the problem. If you choose to apply a pesticide, understanding the contents of the pesticide label is essential for the product's safe and effective use.
The information on the pesticide label represents the research, development and registration procedures that a pesticide must undergo before reaching the market, frequently at a cost of millions of dollars to the manufacturer. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires a manufacturer to submit data from nearly 150 tests prior to that product's approval for use. The pesticide use information obtained in this process is referred to as the label or labeling, two similar words but with different meanings.
The label is the information printed on or attached to the pesticide container; it has several interpretations. To the manufacturer, the label is a "license to sell." To the state or federal government, the label is a way to control the distribution, storage, sale, use and disposal of the product. To the buyer or user, the label is the main source of information on how to use the product correctly, legally and safely.
Labeling refers to all the information that you might receive from the company or its sales representative about the product. This includes brochures, flyers and other information accompanying the pesticide product.
Familiarity with the pesticide label is crucial to selecting the most appropriate pesticide products for your use and therefore receiving maximum benefit from their use. While the label may seem overwhelming at first, it takes only a few minutes to understand the information once the general format is recognized.
You should read the pesticide label
- Before purchasing the pesticide to ensure that it is the one you need.
- Before mixing the pesticide to ensure the proper pesticide concentration.
- Before applying the pesticide to ensure proper use.
- Before storing of excess chemical or disposal of the empty container.
Information contained on most labels can be divided into four major categories: safety, environmental, product and use information. This guide discusses the contents of these categories and provides interpretations.
The numbers beside the category subheadings refer to locations on the example label.
- Child hazard warning
The front panel of every pesticide label must bear the statement, "KEEP OUT OF REACH OF CHILDREN." Poisoning is a major cause of injuries to children.
- Signal word
A signal word is displayed in large letters on the front of the label to indicate approximately how acutely toxic the pesticide is to humans. The signal word is based on the entire contents of the product, not the active ingredient alone. The signal word does not indicate the risk of delayed or allergic effects. All highly toxic pesticides that are very likely to cause acute illness through oral, dermal, or inhalation exposure have DANGER as their signal word and will carry the word POISON printed in red with the skull-and-crossbones symbol. Products that have the DANGER signal word due to skin and eye irritation potential will not carry the word POISON or the skull-and-crossbones symbol.
Interpreting signal words on the pesticide label
A taste to a teaspoon is the approximate amount needed to kill the average person.
A teaspoon to a tablespoon is the approximate amount needed to kill the average person.
An ounce to more than a pint is the approximate amount needed to kill the average person.
- Statement of practical treatment
The labels for all highly toxic pesticides (signal word DANGER) must provide information to medical personnel should a poisoning occur. Some examples: "If swallowed, call a physician or poison control center immediately;" "if on skin, wash skin with soap and water." It is in this section that proper antidotes and treatment are recommended for medical personnel treating a victim. For this reason, always take the pesticide label with you if you need to visit an emergency medical facility. Products labeled DANGER also bear an 800 telephone number that physicians may call for further treatment advice. Often labels for less toxic pesticides will also provide first-aid instructions.
- Hazards to humans and domestic animals
This part of the label includes precautionary statements indicating specific hazards, routes of exposure and precautions to be taken to avoid human and animal injury. The label will contain statements that indicate which route of entry (mouth, skin, eyes, lungs) you must particularly protect and what specific action you need to take to avoid acute effects from exposure to the pesticide. You will see such statements as "fatal if absorbed through the skin, fatal if swallowed, and poisonous if inhaled. Do not breathe vapors or spray mist. Do not get on skin or clothing." Pesticides that the EPA considers to have the potential to cause delayed effects must have label statements warning you of that fact. These statements will tell you whether the product has been shown to cause problems such as tumors or reproductive problems in laboratory animals. Additional information in this section will alert you if the product has the potential to cause allergic effects, such as skin irritation or asthma. Sometimes the labeling refers to allergic effects as "sensitization."
- Personal protective equipment
Most pesticide labels contain specific instructions concerning the type of clothing that must be worn during the handling and mixing processes. This information is usually found following the statements regarding acute, delayed and allergic effects. Some labels may list this information after the signal word. An example of some common statements from pesticide labels regarding personal protective equipment is shown in the text box. The personal protective equipment listed is the minimum protection that should be worn while handling the pesticide. Sometimes the statements will require different personal protective equipment for different pesticide handling activities. In some cases, reduced personal protective equipment is allowed when you will be applying the pesticide in safer situations, such as enclosed cabs.
Personal protective equipment (PPE)
Applicators and other handlers must wear:
- Long-sleeved shirt and long pants
- Waterproof gloves
- Chemical-resistant footwear plus socks
- Protective eyewear
- Chemical-resistant headgear for overhead exposure
- Environmental hazards
This section of the label explains the nature of potential hazards and the precautions needed to prevent injury or damage to nontarget organisms or to the environment. Some general statements appear on practically every pesticide label; for example, most pesticide labels will warn you not to contaminate water when you apply the pesticide or when you clean your equipment or dispose of pesticide wastes. It is also in this section where information can be found if the product poses a threat to groundwater. Instructions will be provided to minimize such impacts. Some labels will mention endangered species concerns in this section.
- This pesticide is highly toxic to aquatic invertebrates and wildlife.
- Birds in treated areas may be killed.
- This product is highly toxic to bees exposed to direct treatment or residues on blooming crops or weeds. Do not apply this product or allow it to drift to blooming crops or weeds if bees are visiting the treated area.
- Use classification
EPA is required to classify pesticides for either general use or restricted use. In classifying a pesticide, EPA considers
- The toxicity of the pesticide.
- The way in which the pesticide will be used.
- The effect of the pesticide on the environment.
When a pesticide is classified as restricted, the label will state "Restricted Use Pesticide" at the top of the front panel. Below this heading may be a reason for the restriction. To purchase and apply restricted-use pesticides, you must be certified and licensed through the Missouri Department of Agriculture.
A general use pesticide is defined as one that will not harm the applicator or the environment to an unreasonable degree when used according to label directions. General use pesticides are available to the general public for use according to label directions.
- May injure susceptible, nontarget plants. For retail sale to and use by Certified Applicators or persons under their direct supervision and only for those uses covered by the Certified Applicator's certification.
- Brand (trade) name
Each manufacturer has a brand name for each of its products. Different manufacturers may use different brand names for the same pesticide active ingredient. For example, Pendulum®, Pre-M® and Prowl® are trade names for the same herbicidal active ingredient, pendimethalin. It is not legal to use different brand-name pesticides interchangeably even if they contain the same active ingredient. The brand name shows plainly on the front panel of the label.
- Ingredient statement
This statement, normally on the front panel of the label, identifies the name and percentage by weight of each active ingredient. Identified by chemical or common name, these are the components of the product that affect the target pest. The chemical name is often complex. For Lorsban and Dursban, for example, the chemical name is 0, 0-diethyl 0-(3,5,6-trichloro-2-pyridyl)-phosphorothioate. To aid communication, EPA-approved common names may be substituted for chemical names. In this example, chlorpyrifos may be substituted for the chemical name. Usually following the list of ingredients, the amount of active ingredient is given in pounds per gallon or percent by weight.
Inert ingredients allow active ingredients to be formulated into many different products. As part of the formulation, they determine a product's handling properties. Inert ingredients need not be named, but the label must show what percent of the total contents they make up.
Chlorpyrifos: 0, 0-diethyl 0-(3,5,6-trichloro-2-pyridyl)-phosphorothioate)
(Contains 6 pounds active ingredient per gallon)
- Net contents
The front panel of the pesticide label tells you how much is in the container. This can be expressed as pounds or ounces for dry formulations and as gallons, quarts, pints or fluid ounces for liquids.
- EPA registration number
This number identifies a specific product and signifies that the product has met federal registration requirements. This number must have a minimum of two sets of digits. For example, 264-458. The "264" indicates the manufacturer and the "458" is the specific number issued to the company by the EPA.
- EPA establishment number
This number identifies the facility that formulated the product. In the event of questions or concerns regarding a product, the facility that made the pesticide can be determined.
- Name and address of manufacturer
The law requires the maker or distributor of a product to put the company name and address on the label. This enables consumers to know who made or sold the product.
The front panel of some pesticide labels will tell what kind of formulation the product is. The formulation name may be either spelled out or designated by an abbreviation, such as WP for wettable powder, D for dust or EC for emulsifiable concentrate. This information is helpful for practical purposes because it provides insight about the type of application equipment that will be needed and the product's handling properties.
- Physical or chemical hazards
This section will tell of special fire, explosion or chemical hazards the product may pose. For example, it will alert you if the product is so flammable that you need to be especially careful to keep it away from heat or open flame or if it is so corrosive that it must be stored in a corrosion-resistant container. This section is not always found in the same location within the labeling. Some labeling will identify physical and chemical hazards in a designated box while other labeling may list them on the front panel beneath the signal word. Others may list hazards under headings such as "Note" or "Important."
- Limited warranty and disclaimer
This statement conveys the manufacturer's assurance that the product conforms to the chemical description on the label and that it is fit for label purposes if used according to directions under normal conditions. The warranty does not extend to any use of the product contrary to label instructions, nor does it apply under abnormal conditions such as drought, tornadoes, hurricanes or excessive rainfall.
- Directions for use
This section usually makes up the bulk of a pesticide label and begins with the wording: "It is a violation of federal law to use this product in any manner inconsistent with its labeling." Products intended for use in agriculture will have an Agricultural Use Requirement box included in this section. It will contain the statement: "Use this product only in accordance with its labeling and with the Worker Protection Standard, 40 CFR part 170." The purpose is to inform those handling the product that the Worker Protection Standard applies to the product. When the Worker Protection Standard applies, a statement regarding information on employee notification of restricted entry intervals and applications, proper training, decontamination, emergency assistance and personal protective equipment is stated here.
Directions for use include the following information
- The crops, animals, objects or areas to be treated.
- The amount to use (per acre, per gallon of water, per 1,000 square feet, etc).
- The method of application and type of application equipment.
- The timing and frequency of application.
- Specific limitations on reentry to treated areas.
- The pests controlled.
- Limitations or restrictions, including harvest intervals, time between applications, methods of use to prevent adverse effects on the environment, crop rotation restrictions, warnings about use on certain crops or sites, and animal restrictions.
- Storage and disposal
Label information about storage generally includes temperature requirements. In many cases, minimum and maximum storage temperatures will be provided. Some pesticides become ineffective if not stored under suitable temperatures; other pesticide labels may indicate that if freezing occurs and crystals form, then the product may be reused if it is warmed up. Information about storage usually includes such general statements as "Do not contaminate feed, foodstuffs or drinking water" and "Store in original containers only."
Labels include information on disposal of pesticide containers as well as excess quantities of diluted pesticide mixtures. The label will inform users that leftover mixtures that can't be applied to a labeled site may be disposed of in an approved waste disposal facility that is in accordance with appropriate federal, state and local procedures. With disposal of liquid pesticide containers, the triple-rinse procedure will be stated in this section of the label and options such as recycling or disposal of punctured containers in a sanitary landfill will be given. Manufacturers of returnable and refillable containers will remind the user to return the containers promptly and intact to the point of purchase. The label will state that bags containing dry pesticide products should be emptied thoroughly into the application equipment and incinerated or discarded into a sanitary landfill. Many states, including Missouri, have air quality regulations that do not allow open burning of pesticide containers.
Asterisk-numbers below refer to numbered paragraphs elsewhere in this publication.
G1911, reviewed October 2001