Handle with care

Of all people, applicators have the greatest risk of exposure to pesticides. That's because applicators must handle the concentrated forms of pesticides, and must do so in ways that may be relatively risky, such as pouring, mixing, opening and closing containers, etc. Therefore, the applicator must use adequate safety measures, wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and also know what actions to take in the event of a spill or leak. You'll find that many precautions are just common sense, but it's important to be familiar with them so you know what to do in an urgent situation.

In a legal sense (as used on pesticide labels), pesticide “handling” includes virtually all transport, storage, mixing, loading, applying and disposal activities. For the purposes of this article, we'll divide “handling” into four categories: mixing, loading and applying; storing; transporting; and container disposal.

Mixing, loading and applying

Opening pesticide containers, connecting application equipment or transferring pesticides to another container for application all entail the possibility of exposure. For their own safety, applicators should vigilantly observe safety precautions.

First of all, read the label. The label, which you should ensure is readily available at the work site, provides detailed safety instructions particular to that chemical.

  • Always wear adequate protective clothing and equipment (see related article on page 55.), including respirator or the appropriate form of eye protection if any chance of pesticide inhalation or eye exposure exists. Put them on before handling pesticides.

    Never eat, drink or smoke while handling pesticides. A frequent cause of exposure is cigarette smoking by applicators who did not wash their hands thoroughly before lighting up.

  • Carefully choose the pesticide handling area. Considerations include:

    • The loading/handling area should be away from other people and pets.

    • Areas where a spill or overflow could get into a water supply are not acceptable for a handling or loading site.

    • Be sure there is adequate ventilation and light.

    • Have a supply of clean water and soap available.

    • Hydrated lime and bleach can be used to neutralize and clean surfaces where spills occur. Clay, catbox filler, activated charcoal or similar material is also helpful to soak up spills or leaks.

    • As much as possible, do not work alone.

  • Opening, pouring and mixing pesticides entail some obvious steps, but ones that are sometimes easy to ignore.

    • Do not tear paper containers to open them — use a sharp knife or scissors.

    • When pouring from a container, keep the container at or below eye level and avoid splashing or spilling on your face or protective clothing.

      Never use your mouth to siphon a pesticide from a container.

    • If an accident occurs, attend to it immediately. Remove any contaminated clothing and wash yourself thoroughly with soap and water. Take care of any spills on the floor or the ground.

    • Measure accurately, follow label instructions, and use only the amount necessary. Newer measuring devices such as “tip and pours” are a great help in handling small amounts of concentrated pesticide.

    • Keep all measuring devices (spoons, cups, scales) in the pesticide storage area, and label them to avoid their being used for other purposes. Rinse measuring cups and put the rinse water into the system being treated.

    • Confirm that your equipment is operational and calibrated before filling and using.

    • When adding water to a spray mixture, make sure the water hose remains above the level of the mixture, never contacting it. This prevents contamination of the hose and avoids the possibility of back-siphoning the pesticide into the water source. Never leave equipment unattended while it is being filled.


Proper pesticide storage prolongs chemical shelf life while helping to prevent accidental exposures. Following are general storage guidelines. Consult the pesticide product label for specific storage information.

  • Store pesticides in a locked, secure place, such as a separate building or storage room. A storage area should be located where water damage is unlikely. Site characteristics should be considered when constructing a storage facility to prevent contamination of surface or groundwater by drainage, runoff or leaching.

  • Post highly visible warning signs on walls, doors and windows to indicate that pesticides are stored there. Also post “No Smoking” signs. Keep storage areas locked. Store pesticides away from food, potable water supplies, seeds and protective equipment.

  • Ventilate the storage area and keep temperature extremes to a minimum. Very high or low temperatures can cause pesticide deterioration. Exhaust fans directed to the outside reduce the temperature and dust or fume concentrations. Fireproof construction with a sealed cement floor is best. Keep pesticides cool, dry and out of direct sunlight.

  • Keep plenty of soap and water available in or close to the storage area, as well as a fire extinguisher approved for chemical fires. First aid equipment and emergency telephone numbers should all be readily available. Store volatile pesticides separately to avoid possible cross-contamination of other products.

  • Store pesticides in their original containers only. Serious poisonings have resulted when people, especially children, mistakenly ingested pesticides that were stored in jars intended for food or beverages.

    If other containers are used as application devices, such as squeeze or spray bottles clearly label the container with the product being used. Have complete label information readily available. Do not use these bottles for storage — finish the application and triple rinse the container.

  • Keep the original label attached to the container. To keep a label legible, protect it with transparent tape or lacquer. Remember, the label is the most important safety factor in the use of pesticides — do not let it become damaged or destroyed. Those who use the pesticide should not rely on verbal directions.

  • Close containers securely when not in use. Dry formulations tend to cake when wet or subjected to high humidity. Opened bags of dry formulations can be placed into sealable plastic bags or other suitable containers. This reduces moisture absorption by the material and prevents spills should a tear or break occur.

    Store liquid formulations and small containers of dry formulations on metal shelving. Metal shelving does not absorb spilled pesticides and is easier to clean than other surfaces. Store pesticides in the original containers, under cool conditions, on lower shelves. Too much heat can cause the container to break or explode. Containers should not extend beyond the edge of the shelf where they could be bumped or knocked off.

  • Check containers regularly for leaks or breaks. If a leak or break occurs, place the container inside another container, or transfer the contents to an empty container that originally held the same material and has the same label attached.

    Keep an inventory of all pesticides in storage and mark each container with the purchase date. If a product has an effective shelf life recorded on the label, you will know how long the product should remain usable. If doubts or questions about the shelf life of a pesticide, call the dealer or manufacturer. To minimize storage problems, buy only as much as you anticipate needing for the season. Keep records of previous usage to make good estimates of future needs.

    The pesticide user is responsible for proper disposal of pesticide wastes, such as unused chemicals and empty pesticide containers. Empty pesticide containers are a hazard to curious children and animals, and improperly disposed of pesticides and rinse water can cause environmental harm.

  • It makes good business sense to deal with pesticide wastes properly and safely.

    • Mix only the amount needed for one application or one series of applications needed to manage a given pest problem.

    • Always read the label for disposal instructions.

    • Discarded clothing and protective equipment, and contaminated soil or other materials used to clean up spills, should be considered pesticide waste and handled as such.

    • Federal and state laws regulate the disposal of containers and other pesticide wastes. Anyone requiring assistance with pesticide disposal should contact their state pesticide regulatory office.

Container disposal

Triple-rinsing or high-pressure rinsing (power rinsing) allows glass, metal, plastic and even some heavy paper containers to be considered nonhazardous waste. Properly rinse pesticide containers at the time they are emptied — residues can dry and become difficult to remove later.

To triple-rinse, wear protective clothing and follow these steps:

  • Allow the concentrate to drain from the empty pesticide container for 30 seconds.

  • Fill approximately 10 percent of the container volume with water, replace the lid and rotate the container so all the interior surfaces are rinsed.

  • Pour the rinsewater into the spray equipment and use it as part of the application, allowing the container to drain for at least 30 seconds.

  • Repeat the procedure two more times.

Power-rinsing is an effective way to make a pesticide container nonhazardous. Power-rinsing requires the use of a special nozzle that directs high-pressure water into the container. Studies have indicated that power-rinsing may be much more effective than triple rinsing and can take less time. Check with your local chemical dealer for availability.

Triple- or power-rinsed containers that will be held for disposal at a later time should be marked to indicate triple- or power-rinsing has been done and the date. Pesticide containers that will not be recycled through a recycling facility or the dealer should be rendered unusable by breaking, puncturing or crushing.

  • Never reuse pesticide containers. Keep all containers in the locked storage area until disposal, away from all possible contact with children and animals. Disposal of triple-rinsed or power-rinsed containers in a sanitary landfill is usually permissible, but it is a good policy to check with your local solid waste authority before discarding pesticide containers there.

    Always follow disposal instructions on the label; seek assistance with disposal problems!

Transporting pesticides

Once a pesticide is in your possession, you are responsible for its safe transport. The safest way to carry pesticides is in the back of a truck. Flatbed trucks should have side and tail racks. Never carry pesticides in the passenger compartment of a vehicle: hazardous fumes may be released and spills may cause injury and be impossible to remove from seats. Never carry pesticides in the same compartment with fertilizers, seed, food or feed — the risk of contamination is too high should a spill occur.

  • Inspect containers before loading to be sure all caps and plugs are tightly closed and legible labels are attached. Be sure the outside surfaces of the containers are not contaminated with pesticide. Secure containers to safeguard against spills or leaks that may result if the containers roll or slide. Protect pesticides from temperature extremes during transport.

  • Never leave your vehicle unattended when transporting pesticides in an unlocked trunk compartment or open-bed truck. You are legally responsible if curious children or careless adults are accidentally poisoned by pesticides left unattended and exposed in your vehicle. Whenever possible, transport pesticides in a locked compartment.

This information was partly excerpted from training materials produced by the Michigan State University Pesticide Education Program (E. Lansing, Mich.). For more information, you can contact them at www.pested.msu.edu or (517) 353-8811.

Note: pesticide regulations vary by state. Be sure to contact your state pesticide regulatory office for state-specific pesticide handling and disposal guidelines.

For information on container recycling, go to www.acrecycle.org.


To triple-rinse, wear protective clothing and follow these steps:

  1. Allow the concentrate to drain from the empty pesticide container for 30 seconds.

  2. Fill approximately 10 percent of the container volume with water, replace the lid and rotate the container so all the interior surfaces are rinsed.

  3. Pour the rinsewater into the spray equipment and use it as part of the application, allowing the container to drain for at least 30 seconds.

  4. Repeat the procedure two more times.

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