For obvious reasons, pesticides are designed to kill, repel or otherwise control unwanted pests, and in most cases these pesticides are designed to kill the targeted pest. In many ways, living organisms are not all that different from one another, and something that is toxic to one species may also be toxic to other, non-targeted organisms. For example, insects, rodents and humans have similarities in their nervous, circulatory and respiratory systems, all systems that are targeted by different pesticides; and it is these similarities that are the reason some pesticides can cause harmful effects in humans.
Pesticides can cause both long-term and short-term effects on your health. Be sure to refer to the signal word located on the products label as well as to the information contained in the “Hazards to Humans and domestic Animals” section found on all labels to learn more about human toxicity concerns. Keep in mind that in addition to the physical and chemical toxicity concerns many pesticides pose a risk by being explosive or combustible. Also, be sure to refer to the products material data safety sheet (MSDS) for more information on potential hazards.
How Pesticides Enter the Body (Exposure)
When a pesticide is taken into the body, we refer to this as “Exposure”; pesticides can enter the body orally (through the mouth), through the eyes (ocular), dermally (through the skin) or by inhalation (through the nose and respiratory system).
Oral Exposure: It is possible for oral exposure to a pesticide to occur accidently, but it is much more likely to occur as a result of carelessness; such as blowing out a clogged nozzle with your mouth, smoking eating or going to the restroom without washing your hands after using a pesticide, or even splashing concentrated pesticides while mixing. The seriousness of this exposure would depend not only on the oral toxicity of the product, but also the amount swallowed. Children are frequently the victims of accidental oral exposure thru improperly stored pesticides in the home, such as rat baits or when pesticides have been taken from the original labeled container and put into an unlabeled bottle or food container. This is not only illegal but children often associate these containers with their original products. You should also mark all pesticide measuring cups and containers to ensure that they are not used for water, drink or food.
Dermal Exposure: Dermal, or skin, exposure accounts for about 97% of the exposure pesticide users receive from non-fumigant pesticides. Dermal exposure can occur any time a pesticide is mixed, applied, from contact with pesticide residues on treated surfaces, contaminated personal protective equipment (PPE), or anytime pesticides are otherwise handled, and these exposures often go undetected. Although the rates of absorption through the skin are different for different parts of the body, it is important to remember that the absorption of the pesticide continues to take place as long as the pesticide is in contact with the skin. The seriousness of a dermal exposure to pesticides depends upon:
- The dermal toxicity of the pesticide to which you were exposed.
- The rate of absorption of the pesticide through the skin.
- The size of the skin area contaminated by the pesticide.
- The length of time the pesticide is in contact with the skin.
- The amount of pesticide on the skin.
- Additionally pesticide formulations can vary in their ability to penetrate the skin; in general water soluble liquids or powders, wettable powders, dusts and granular products do not penetrate the skin easily, while oil or solvent based pesticides such as emulsifiable concentrates are readily absorbed.