Pesticides can enter the body through the skin, the eyes, the mouth, and the lungs. The most common cause of pesticide poisoning for applicators is through skin contact. Some pesticides enter the body through the skin quite readily. Concentrates can be especially dangerous. Some parts of the body absorb pesticides extremely fast and need extra protection. Two such areas are the head and the scrotum. Most of a pesticide spilled on your skin is absorbed in the first few minutes. If any pesticide is spilled on you, wash it off immediately. It is best to avoid direct contact with pesticides by wearing the proper protective clothing. The pesticide label will tell you what protective equipment is necessary. Wear it!
Always wear unlined, elbow length chemical-resistant gloves when handling all pesticides except those that are relatively nontoxic (category IV or lower toxicity). The elbow length gloves protect your wrists and prevent pesticides from running down your sleeves into your gloves.
Glove materials include nitrile, butyl, neoprene, natural rubber (latex), polyethylene, polyvinylchloride (PVC) and barrier laminates like 4H® and Silver Shield®. Current research indicates that nitrile, butyl, and neoprene offer good protection for both dry and liquid pesticides. Neoprene is not recommended for fumigants. Natural rubber is only effective for dry formulations. Never use leather or cotton gloves. Cotton and leather gloves can be more hazardous than no protection at all because they absorb and hold the pesticide close to your skin for long periods of time. Check the quality of construction and material before buying any glove because efficacy varies with the manufacturer. Protection increases with the thickness of the materials, but extra thick gloves may interfere with dexterity. Never use fingerless gloves.
Remember that proper use is as important as selection. Check closely for holes by filling the gloves with air or clean water and gently squeezing. Discard the gloves if any holes appear. In the case of overhead work, turn glove cuffs up to form a cup to trap any liquid that runs down the arm. When you are finished spraying, wash your gloves with detergent and water before you remove them. This way, you will not contaminate your hands or the inside of the gloves when you remove them. Wash your hands with lots of soap and water after you remove the gloves.
Clean and store gloves for reuse. Replace gloves periodically because most materials will accumulate pesticide residues over time. Nitrile and neoprene gloves can be used for 120 to 160 work hours. Replace PVC and natural rubber gloves after 40 work hours. Slash discarded gloves so that they cannot be used by someone else. Wrap in a plastic bag and put with an empty pesticide container for proper disposal.
Regular work attire of long pants and a long-sleeved shirt, shoes, and socks are acceptable for slightly toxic (category III) and relatively non-toxic (category IV) pesticides. Many applicators prefer work uniforms and cotton coveralls that fit the regular-work-attire description and provide equal protection. Applicators should reserve one set of clothing for pesticide use only. Launder and store separately from all other clothing.
To apply moderately toxic (category II) or highly toxic (category I) chemicals, wear a clean, dry protective suit that covers your entire body from wrists to ankles. The sleeves must be long enough to overlap with gloves. Openings, such as pockets, should be kept to a minimum. Protective suits are one- or two-piece garments, such as coveralls. They should be worn over regular work clothes and underwear. Protective suits may be disposable or reusable. They are available in woven, nonwoven, coated and laminated fabrics. The degree of protection increases as one moves from woven to nonwoven to coated and laminated fabrics. Read the manufacturer's label for specific information related to care and intended use. Good quality construction, proper fit, and careful maintenance or disposal are also important.
Woven fabrics provide a barrier of fabric and air between the wearer and the pesticide. The effectiveness of the barrier depends on the specific properties of the fabric. Tightly woven, cotton twill offers better pesticide protection than other woven fabrics. Cotton coveralls are a sensible choice for general use because they are comfortable, lightweight, readily available, reusable, and affordable. They reduce the risk of dermal exposure to pesticides in dust, granule, or powder form. They do not protect the wearer against spills, sprays, or mists and are not recommended for use with liquid pesticides. Cotton coveralls may be reused if washed according to the laundry instructions for pesticide contaminated clothing.
Nonwoven fabrics have a random orientation of fibers which do not allow direct paths through the material. Coveralls of nonwoven fabrics are less comfortable than coveralls made of woven fabric. Precautions should be taken to avoid heat stress situations. Most nonwoven suits are disposable; they should be discarded after eight hours of use.
Uncoated nonwoven fabrics are convenient for use with pesticides in dust, granule, or powder form. They do not protect the wearer against spills, sprays, or mists and are not recommended for use with liquid pesticides. They should not be worn when using chlorinated hydrocarbons. Tyvek, a 100% spunbonded polyethylene fabric made by DuPont, is an example of an uncoated nonwoven fabric.
Fabrics can be made more resistant to pesticide penetration by laminating fabric layers and/or by applying chemical coatings. Chemical -resistant protective suits of coated or laminated fabrics are a must if you (or your helper) will be in a mist or spray that would wet your clothing. Coated and laminated fabrics resist water penetration, but not all of these fabrics qualify as chemical resistant. Chemical-resistant suits are recommended when handling highly toxic (category I) pesticides.
Coated and laminated protective suits used for pesticide protection are listed below:
1) Tyvek QC, a DuPont product of 100% spunbonded polyethylene fabric coated with a polyethylene film, protects the wearer against dry and liquid drift or splashes. It does not protect against chlorinated hydrocarbons or organophosphorus compounds. It is not chemical- resistant and is rather uncomfortable in hot weather. It is a disposable product.
2) Tyvek QC+ is DuPont Tyvek that is laminated with Saranex-23P, a saran film made by Dow Chemical. It provides added breakthrough protection from dry and certain liquid pesticides at the category I and category II toxicity levels. It does not protect against chlorinated hydrocarbons and is uncomfortable in hot weather. It is a disposable product.
3) Waterproof rainwear. Fabrics with PVC, butyl, and neoprene coatings protect the user against liquid and toxic pesticides. Current research indicates that butyl and neoprene are more resistant than PVC. Wearers complain that these protective suits are cumbersome and uncomfortable in hot weather. They are reusable if properly maintained, but their longevity is still under investigation.
4) Goretex, a microporous film laminate produced by W.L. Gore and Associates, Inc., is chemically resistant and comfortable to wear. It is not yet a practical choice because of its expense and unresolved maintenance problems.
Wear a chemical-resistant apron when repairing or cleaning spray equipment and when mixing or loading. This is a good practice for all pesticides. It is essential for pesticides of category I and II toxicity. Aprons offer excellent protection against spills and splashes of liquid formulations, but they are also useful when handling dry formulations such as wettable powders. Aprons can be easily worn over other protective clothing and are comfortable enough for use in warm climates. Choose an apron that extends from the neck to at least the knees. Some aprons have attached sleeves. Nitrile, butyl, and neoprene offer the best protection. PVC and natural rubber are also available.
Wear unlined chemical-resistant boots which cover your ankles when handling or applying moderately or highly toxic pesticides. Purchase boots with thick soles. Nitrile and butyl boots appear to give the best protection. Do not use leather boots. If chemical-resistant boots are too hot to wear in warm climates or too difficult to put on, try wearing chemical-resistant overboots with washable shoes (such as canvas sneakers or layered socks.) Remember to put your pant legs outside the boots, otherwise the pesticide can drain into the boot. Wash boots after each use and dry thoroughly inside and out to remove all pesticide residue. Use them only for pesticide applications. It is wise to keep two pair of boots on hand in case of accidental contamination. Wash socks and canvas sneakers worn under chemical-resistant boots, according to laundry instructions. Boots should be replaced at least yearly. As a reminder, write the date of purchase on the boot.
Wear shielded safety glasses; a full-face respirator; snug-fitting, non-fogging goggles; or a full-face shield whenever the chemical could possibly contact your eyes. Safety glasses with brow and side shields are acceptable for low exposure situations. Always wear goggles or full-face respirator when you are pouring or mixing concentrates or working in a highly toxic spray or dust. In high exposure situations when both face and eye protection are needed, a face shield can be worn over goggles. Clean them after each use. Be careful of the headband; it is often made of a material which readily absorbs and holds chemicals. Have several spares and change them often or use a chemical-resistant strap. If possible, wear the strap under your head covering.
The hair and skin on your neck and head must be protected too. This is most important in situations where exposure from overhead dusts or sprays is possible, such as in airblast spraying operations or flagging. Chemical-resistant rain hats, wide brimmed hats, and washable hard hats (with no absorbing liner) are good. In cool weather, chemical-resistant parkas with attached hoods are a good choice. If the attached hood is not being used, tuck it inside the neckline so that it will not collect pesticides. Do not use cotton or felt hats; they absorb pesticides.
FIFRA requires pesticide users to follow all personal protective equipment (PPE) instruction found on the pesticide label. These instructions are the minimum PPE requirements. More protection may be a good idea, and one that the applicator should always consider. Pesticide labels that list examples of PPE materials will often also specify a chemical-resistance category for the product. The categories are lettered A through H. Here is an example label statement: "Some materials that are chemical-resistant to this product are listed below. If you want more options, follow the instructions for category (F) on the EPA chemical resistance category selection chart." With this label language in mind, the next step is to consult the EPA chemical resistance chart, like the one which follows, look along the (F) row to learn the complete range of your PPE material options.
HIGH: Highly chemical-resistant. Clean or replace PPE at end of each day's work period. Rinse off pesticides at rest breaks.
MODERATE: Moderately chemical-resistant. Clean or replace PPE within an hour or two of contact.
SLIGHT: Slightly chemical-resistant. Clean or replace PPE within ten minutes of contact.
NONE: No chemical-resistance. Do not wear this type of material as PPE when contact is possible. _____________________________________________________________________________
The chart also tells you how long you can expect the PPE to resist penetration of the pesticide you are using. The time will be shorter if the PPE is punctured, torn, abraded or used carelessly. The chart also lists when the PPE should be replaced and when it should be cleaned. Failure to replace or clean the PPE according to the chart's directions would be considered a misuse of the pesticide. It is considered a misuse because the PPE no longer will meet the label's requirements for "chemical-resistant" PPE.
Highly resistant PPE. A rating of high means that the material is highly resistant to pesticides in that category. PPE made of this type of material can be expected to protect you for an 8-hour work period. The outside of the PPE, especially gloves, should be washed at rest breaks or every four hours. Highly resistant PPE is a good choice when handling pesticides, especially concentrates, for long periods of time.
Moderately resistant PPE. A rating of moderate means that the material is moderately resistant to pesticides in that category. PPE made of this type of material can be expected to protect you for one to two hours. Replace the PPE after that period of time with clean items or thoroughly wash the outside with soap and water. PPE with a moderate rating may be a good choice for pesticide handling tasks that last only a couple of hours.
Slightly resistant PPE. A rating of slight means that the material is only slightly resistant to pesticides in that category. PPE made of this type of material can be expected to protect you for only a few minutes after exposure to the pesticide product. Replace the PPE after that period of time with clean items or thoroughly wash the outside with soap and water. Slightly resistant PPE may be a good choice for pesticide handling tasks that last only a few minutes.
Disposable gloves or shoe covers should be used only once for a very short-term task, and then discarded. First wash the PPE, and then remove them by turning them inside out. Then dispose of them properly.
Respirators protect you from inhaling toxic chemicals. The label will tell you if a respirator is required. Consider wearing one during any lengthy exposure with a high risk of pesticide inhalation. Always wear a respirator while mixing or filling highly toxic pesticides. Applicators who will be constantly exposed to small amounts of moderately toxic pesticides for a day or several days, should also wear a respirator.
Air-purifying respirators remove contaminants from air by filtering the air. In the majority of situations where a pesticide applicator will need a respirator, an air-purifying respirator will provide adequate protection. These respirators will not protect the applicator from all airborne pesticides, such as fumigants, and are not to be used when the oxygen supply is low. The pesticide label will specify which type of respirator must be worn. Air-purifying respirators can be categorized into four styles; cup-shaped filters, full or half-face facepiece style with cartridges, full or half-face facepiece style with a canister and the powered air-purifying respirator.
The filtering facepiece respirator, such as the N95, must be worn when the pesticide label requires one and when the risk of inhaling pesticide dusts, powders, mists, aerosols, or sprays is present. These cup-style dust/mist-filtering respirators are usually made of stiff fabric that is shaped like a cup. It is worn on the face and covers the nose and mouth and filters out dusts, mists, powders, and particles. Pesticide handlers must wear cup-style or cartridge-style dust/mist-filtering respirators with a NIOSH/MSHA approval number prefix TC-84A.
A respirator that also removes vapors must be worn if the pesticide label requires it and when there is a risk of inhaling gases or vapors. Respirators with full or half-face facepiece and have one or more cartridges that contain air-purifying materials can meet this requirement. This facepiece style also comes with a large canister that contains more air-purifying materials than a cartridge does. This style must seal tightly against the face. A fit test is necessary before using a cartridge or canister respirator for the first time.
Pesticide applicators will be given directions on the label for the proper respirator and cartridge. Organic vapor (OV)-removing cartridge respirators will list a choice of either an N, R or P filter or prefilter. Respirator filters/prefilters will be designated as "N" (meaning no oil resistance), "R" (oil-resistant for 8 hours) or "P" (oil-proof, may last longer than 8 hours). This means that "R" and "P" respirators assure that oils will not degrade filter efficiency. Respirator cartridges will have an efficiency designation of 95, 99 or 100. A type 95 is 95% efficient while a type 99 is 99% efficient and the type 100 is the most efficient and equivalent to the old HEPA filter. The type 100 respirators will be designated "HE" (high efficiency) and will be used with powered air-purifying respirators.
There are three questions that must be answered when selecting a new respirator. They have to do with selecting the type of filter and the efficiency of the filter. The following table sketches out the basics.
The third question, "Which filter efficiency do I choose?" requires a little discussion. For all practical purposes, there are two choices, the type 95 and the type 100. Most manufacturers probably will not make both the type 99 and 100, but only the 100 or HE filter or pre-filter. As a general rule, types 95 and 100 are both good for most pesticide uses. When the job requires a HEPA or type 100 respirator, the selection should then be the "HE" or type 100.
Nine choices based on filter class and efficiency
Example uses of new respirator designations
Powered air-purifying respirators (PAPRs) force air through air-purifying material (cartridge or canister) to assist the wearer in obtaining clean filtered air. These are positive pressure respirators and are good for users with respiratory problems or with facial hair that may prevent a tight seal with full or half-face respirators. Powered air-purifying respirators purify contaminated air and do not provide oxygen or supply air from an outside source.
The filters may need to be replaced two or more times each day. The filters and prefilters should be replaced when:
Air-supplying respirators are used in situations where the other types of respirators will not provide enough protection. They are also used when the oxygen supply is low and when the pesticide label requires one. Supplied-air respirators supply clean air through a hose directly to the face mask. The working distance is thus limited to the length of the hose. Wear supplied-air respirators with a NIOSH/MSHA approval number prefix TC-19C. A self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) supplies clean air from cylinders that are carried. They allow more freedom of movement and require specialized training for their proper use. The air supply is limited to between 30 and 60 minutes. Wear SCBA with a NIOSH/MSHA approval number prefix TC-13F.
Protecting sprayer operators against pesticide exposure involves more than protective clothing. There are several mechanical devices called "engineering controls" that can help reduce the risks associated with applying pesticides.
Always work in pairs when handling highly toxic chemicals. Watch your co-worker carefully for unusual behavior or actions. Remind them (and yourself) to wash their face and hands before eating, drinking, or smoking. Never use the toilet before washing your hands. It is important to avoid getting toxic pesticides on any area of your body! At the end of the day remove your contaminated clothing carefully and put it in a plastic bag, well away from the family laundry or immediately wash the clothes yourself. Shower and clean yourself thoroughly from head to toe. Pay particular attention to fingernails and hair where pesticides could remain.
Consider getting your blood tested to determine your normal or base level of a natural chemical called cholinesterase. This chemical is necessary for your nervous system to properly function and without it you will die. Both carbamate and organophosphate pesticides attack this chemical in your blood and make it useless. Once your base level of cholinesterase has been determined, a simple blood test will show if you still have the normal amount. If you do not, you have been overexposed to either an organophosphate or carbamate pesticide. You should avoid further contact with these pesticides until your cholinesterase level has returned to normal. In severe cases antidotes must be given. Follow your doctor's directions. Any applicator working with highly toxic chemicals should have his cholinesterase level tested at regular intervals throughout the spray season. (Cholinesterase tests are not useful for n-methyl carbamate pesticides.)
Entry restrictions are designed to protect people from being exposed to dangerous levels of pesticides left on treated surfaces. The minimum entry restriction for all products will be until sprays have dried, dusts have settled or vapors dispersed. The Worker Protection Standard (WPS) established Restricted Entry Intervals (REI) for pesticides used to produce agricultural plants. The REI is a period of time after application of a pesticide during which worker entry to the treated area is restricted. These REIs are based on the acute dermal toxicity of the active ingredient, eye irritation effects or skin irritation effects. For example, all pesticides covered under the WPS in toxicity category II have REIs of 24 hours.
The product label will state the specific entry restrictions. It will also state that early reentry (entering a treated area before the entry restriction has expired) can only be done by personnel wearing specific protective clothing. The applicator will know that the product is covered by the WPS if the following statement is in the "Directions for Use" section of the pesticide labeling:
Use this product only in accordance with its labeling and with the Worker Protection Standard, 40 CRF Part 170. This standard contains requirements for the protection of agricultural workers on farms, forests, nurseries, and greenhouses, and handlers of agricultural pesticides. It contains requirements for training, decontamination, notification, and emergency assistance. It also contains specific instructions and exceptions pertaining to the statements on this label about personal protective equipment, notification of workers, and restricted -entry-intervals."
Whenever a pesticide is in your possession, you are responsible for its safe transport. Do all you can to prevent problems and be prepared in case of an emergency. Carry pesticides in the back of a truck. Flatbed trucks should have racks. Steel beds are the best since they can be more easily cleaned if a spill should occur. Never carry pesticides in the passenger compartment of a vehicle. Never carry pesticides near passengers, pets, fertilizers, seed, food or feed, and risk contamination should a spill occur.
All containers should be tightly closed and have legible labels. Secure containers so they will not roll or slide. Protect all containers from moisture and temperature extremes. Never leave your vehicle alone when the pesticides are in an unlocked truck bed or compartment. The legal responsibility for the injury of curious children or careless adults is yours if the pesticides are left unattended.
Don't take chances with toxic chemicals. You are gambling with your life as well as those of others.
Disclaimer: Please read the pesticide label prior to use. The information contained at this web site is not a substitute for a pesticide label. Trade names used herein are for convenience only; no endorsement of products is intended, nor is criticism of unnamed products implied. Most of this information is historical in nature and may no longer be applicable.