How to Navigate the Treacherous Waters of Pesticide Compliance

Issues of professionalism and legal compliance rarely arise as frequently in our business as they do where the use of pesticides is concerned.

Too many interiorscapers I’ve known are content to grab a consumer product for houseplant or garden pest control off the shelf at the big box store and use it on the premises of their clients. Before you even think about doing that, there are some important facts you ought to consider.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of the United States is the primary agency assigned to regulate and enforce the laws concerning the legal production, sale, and use of pesticides in this country. The agency dictates manufacturing protocols, conducts inspections of production facilities, guides manufacturers and dealers in the labeling of their products, and levies enforcement actions for violators. But it’s the individual states and their environmental and agricultural agencies and departments that are responsible for the everyday supervision and enforcement of federal and state laws and regulations governing the proper use of insecticides, miticides, rodenticides, fungicides, bactericides, and other pest control measures employed in structures, on farms, in greenhouses, and in the landscape, both exterior and interior. And before you spritz that six or eight-legged pest or pesky microbe with an over-the-counter formulation designed for home use, you’d better first get up to speed on your state’s requirements for the commercial application of registered pesticides.

Space prohibits a complete discussion of each state’s unique set of regs and laws, but there’s a great resource for your own use in learning how to become compliant with your own state’s licensing and use requirements. The National Pesticide Information Center maintains an informational website that features an interactive map of the United States that links to the pesticide regulatory agencies in each state. Just click on the map and you’ll be directed to the website and contact phone numbers for your state’s agency. What could be simpler?

Each state’s protocols are somewhat different, but most require commercially applied (i.e., for hire or in the performance of a service for hire) pesticides to be applied by a licensed individual and/or business entity. In my home state of New Jersey, which is one of the strictest in the nation, both the individual commercial applicator and the commercial applicator business must be licensed by the state, a process that involves passing a general (Core) exam and at least one more specialized exam (Category) covering the segment of the industry in which the company works (e.g., interior plantscape, landscape ornamentals, turf). New Jersey also requires employees of the applicator business who work under the supervision of the licensed applicator to become licensed as pesticide operators in order to apply pesticides on client premises without the applicator being physically present. Recertification credits in both the Core and Category licensing areas must be accumulated within a five-year period from the date of licensing, or else the exams must be re-taken to enable continued licensing of the commercial applicator.

But licensing is just the starting point of your career as a pesticide applicator. With the license that enables you to purchase and use pesticides, including restricted-use products, comes the responsibility for all of the constituent activities you will carry out in the performance of your duties. You will need to keep records of all kinds: pesticide storage inventory, application records, customer notifications, and Worker Protection Training rosters. Your state may very well require another type of licensing that enables you to apply pesticides on the premises of your own business facilities (warehouse, greenhouse, nursery yard, etc.), which in New Jersey is called the Private Applicator License. A private applicator has the additional responsibility for training workers who either apply, handle, or mix pesticides at the company’s own facility or work in the pesticide treated areas of the facility. Each employee must be trained in their native language every five years, and the licensed private applicator must maintain an informational bulletin board to keep employees aware of when and where on the property any pesticide applications are made along with emergency phone numbers and facility locations in the event of a pesticide spill or accidental exposure to a worker. The federal government is extremely strict about the Worker Protection Standard, and as a result the states are as well. Unannounced site inspections of agricultural/horticultural establishments are on the rise, with the attendant enforcement actions they always generate. It’s all about protecting workers and giving them the best possible information about the potential hazards of their workplace and how to safely use and work around pesticides.

States also differ in their requirements for how commercial pesticide applicators must inform and protect their clients in the course of applying pest control products on the client’s premises. For interiorscapers, New Jersey requires that the customer be notified in advance of the proposed application, and areas in which pesticides are applied must be posted with warning signage for a prescribed period of time before, during, and after the application is made. At the very least, personnel in the client’s premises must be kept away from any treated plants until the spray dries. For this reason, soil-incorporated granular products and drenches are preferred to spraying in the interiorscape, unless the work can be done during off-hours. Again, records must be kept about the date and time of all pesticide applications on client property, including the name of the product formulation used, its chemical name and EPA registration number, the amount of active ingredient applied, the amount of diluent (spray mixture) used, the applicator name and license number, type of equipment used to make the application, and the Re-Entry Interval (R. E. I.), which is the time period specified on the product label during which employees of the applicator business are excluded from re-entry to the treated areas.

Professional’s Field Guide: Plant Pest Control

-Professional’s Field Guide: Plant Pest Control (click image)

I can almost hear many of you groaning and saying, “I might as well give up using pesticides altogether! This is all just too much trouble!” That’s always an option these days, believe it or not. You have the option of replacing an infested plant with a fresh one from your greenhouse or supplier and disposing of the infested one or treating the plant offsite at your own facility and re-installing it after the problem has cleared up. You can also opt to use biological controls, such as parasitic or predatory organisms that will fight the infestation or infection without the use of registered pesticides; this method usually works best on plants with very light infestations. And you might even choose to use some “home remedies” to clear up your pest problems. The EPA recognizes an approved roster of “natural” products that can be used, with varying levels of success, to treat insect, mite and pathogen problems. These products are catalogued on the FIFRA Exempt List of so-called “minimum risk pesticides”. These are substances that have been approved for use as pesticides without the need for EPA product registration and all the federal and state restrictions and requirements that accompany a garden-variety registered product. Do they work? Some do, and many people swear by them. They include things such as peppermint oil, rosemary oil, cinnamon oil, and soybean oil (note that Hydrogen peroxide, popularly thought of as an “organic” pesticide, is not listed on the exempt list and is considered a registered pesticide by the EPA in various formulations that are generally used as surface antimicrobials).

So if you’ve determined that the occasional, prudent use of EPA-registered pesticides is a necessary part of your interiorscape business, visit your state’s regulatory agency’s website and get started on becoming compliant with its laws and regulations. The penalties for failure to comply can be very steep, with some states fining violators up to $50,000.00 per occurrence for serious violations of their pesticide regulations and laws. Being lax about doing it the right way could cost you your business, because failure to act in accordance with federal or state pesticide requirements can also leave you exposed to civil penalties and liability for injuries, illness, or death that may result from your negligence. Compliance will cost you some time and money, it’s true, but nothing near what failure to comply can cost you down the road.

Featured image by Michelle Tribe

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, and GreenChat.

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