Everything You Need to Know About Pesticide Labels

Don’t be insulted by the title…I know you’re perfectly capable of reading plain English, but pesticide labels are written in a dialect that often confuses, confounds and otherwise stresses out many of us in the green industry.

Improper use of pesticides is rarely a deliberate act. Instead, it’s usually caused by failure to understand the label directions and warnings of the product and properly put them into action. So we’re going to take a tour of a pretty typical product label for Decathlon 20WP and try to de-mystify it for you.

Decathlon is a widely-used insecticide that is familiar to interiorscapers and greenhouse growers worldwide. Its formulation is that of a wettable powder, meaning it has to be mixed with water to be applied. Wettable powders don’t dissolve very well in water, which obligates the applicator to constantly agitate the spray mixture to ensure good dispersion of the active ingredient.

“Hey!”, you’re thinking, “I thought you were going to de-mystify this stuff…and now you’re just throwing around a bunch of terminology!”  I apologize, but we have to start somewhere, and these are some basic pesticide application concepts: the product name, type of formulation, and methods of mixing and application are crucial to effective use of any pesticide. I promise it will all make sense by the end of this blog.

This is a specimen label for Decathlon 20WP…

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We’re going to hit the highlights on this label to save time and get to the most important info. The first and most basic is the product name. Many pesticides are available in multiple formulations under the same brand name, so it’s important to choose the one that’s labeled for your target pest, crop, site (place where you’ll be applying it), and preferred method of application (spray, drench, etc.). Note just below the Decathlon 20WP product name where it says, For Commercial Use Only. That’s important, because most states don’t want a commercial applicator using over-the-counter homeowner products in commercial situations, and they don’t want unlicensed consumers using professional products around their homes or offices. The block of gibberish just below the heading on the first page tells us the chemical name of the active ingredient and any other ingredients that may be included in this formulation of the product. That generally needs to be recorded in your application records along with all of the other pertinent data relating to when, where, why and how much you’ve applied.

Next comes a very important factoid: the EPA registration number for this particular formulation (EPA Reg. No. 432-1402-59807). This distinguishes this product from every other variant of its kind as well as from every other registered pesticide in creation. Sure, it’s all legal mumbo-jumbo to us, but the EPA takes it seriously, and so should you.

Now we get to the real meat-and-potatoes contents. The PRECAUTIONARY STATEMENTS tell the applicator and anyone working in the vicinity of a pesticide application several important things: the potential hazards to people and domestic animals, what FIRST AID measures must be taken if someone is exposed to the pesticide either during mixing, application or otherwise, and what types of PERSONAL PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT (PPE) have to be provided to and used by your personnel when making applications or working in areas that are being treated, if allowed by the EPA’s Worker Protection Standard (more on that shortly). Don’t think you can safely apply the product and skimp on compliance with these recommendations. Your health and the health of your employees and co-workers is at risk if you cut corners or ignore the label directions for health and safety protection. The manufacturer even provides its own Emergency Telephone Number on the label should you need guidance on how to proceed in the event of a spill or other exposure to the product.

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Page 2 of the label (see above image) deals with more precautionary information, such as the potential ENVIRONMENTAL HAZARDS of the product should it find its way into places it wasn’t intended to go (waterways, food storage areas, pet enclosures, etc.), and also includes advice on avoiding contamination of invertebrate species such as honeybees, a real hot-button issue at the moment. We proceed next to the DIRECTIONS FOR USE, which are not limited to simple mixing proportions for the product, but also counsel as to the optimal methods and timing of the pesticide’s use. Included in this section of the label are the AGRICULTURAL USE REQUIREMENTS, which are set off in a special box to get your attention, because they apply to the regulations for using this product in an agricultural setting (greenhouse, nursery, farm, ornamental landscape or interiorscape). Here’s where that Worker Protection Standard comes into play; EPA decided some years ago that workers in agricultural establishments too often were kept in the dark about what potentially toxic chemicals were being used in their workplaces, and in order to minimize the risks of exposure they instituted the Restricted Entry Interval (REI), which is the period of time during and after a pesticide application during which employees of the applicator entity are restricted from entering the treated area and specifies the type of PPE required for early entry that is permitted by the product label and state regulations.

Next comes a series of statements of GENERAL INFORMATION and RECOMMENDATIONS FOR ORNAMENTAL AND NURSERY STOCK that the manufacturer considers useful or necessary for the successful application of the product. It contains a very important statement regarding the approved sites for the use of the pesticide (e.g., “parks, recreational areas…and interior plantscapes”) as well as guidance for proper mixing techniques, compatibility with other products, and restrictions on the types of application equipment that may be used for the pesticide.

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Now we’re in the home stretch!  On page 3 (see the above image), under RECOMMENDED APPLICATIONS we find specific information about what pests and crops on which the pesticide is labeled for use, as well as rates for applying it in the various modes (e.g., foliar spray, drench, etc.) for which the product is intended to be used. It also includes complete directions for the proper (and legal) methods of STORAGE AND DISPOSAL of the product itself in its concentrated and mixed forms.  Finally, the label concludes with the requisite legal disclaimers (IMPORTANT: READ BEFORE USE)…but you didn’t think you’d get away with skipping those, did you?

The bottom line is that I learned some very simple, very valuable information from the late radio gardening host Ralph Snodsmith many decades ago. When using any pesticide or other horticultural chemical product, ALWAYS READ AND FOLLOW THE MANUFACTURER’S RECOMMENDED RATES AND INSTRUCTIONS. Sage words that will keep you street-legal and “green” in more ways than one.

Clem Cirelli, Jr. is a career horticulturist and interiorscaper at Belmont Greenhouses in Belle Mead, New Jersey, with over thirty-five years' experience in all segments of the green industry. He holds a Bachelor's degree in Biology from Rutgers University, has written for Interiorscape Magazine, has spoken at TPIE and the Mid-Atlantic Interior Landscape Conference, and contributes regularly to the industry forums, Interiorscape.com and GreenChat.

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