All pesticide containers, including herbicide containers, must have an attached label that provides instructions for storage and disposal, use of the product, and precautions for the user and the environment. Information on the herbicide label represents the research, development and registration procedures that a pesticide must undergo before reaching the market. Herbicides sold for use in water (aquatic herbicides) have been approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and have undergone years of costly and extensive research to ensure their environmental safety. In addition, they have been approved for use in the state by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
It is unlawful to alter, detach, or destroy the label, or to use a pesticide in a manner inconsistent with, or not specified on, the label. Misuse of a herbicide is a violation of federal and state law, and people have been imprisoned for pesticide misuse.
Note: The following material has been excerpted from Chapter 8 of UF/IFAS publication SM-3 Aquatic Pest Control (2010) with permission from the Department of Agronomy Pesticide Information Office, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. This publication is available for sale at the IFAS Bookstore.
Understanding the Label
Terms to Know
- Active ingredient: The substance in a pesticide product that is intended to kill, repel, or otherwise control a target pest.
- Acute effect: An illness that becomes apparent soon after an exposure to a pesticide occurs.
- Application rate: Pertaining to the amount of pesticide that is applied to a known area, such as a surface acre.
- Brand name: Name under which the manufacturer sells the product.
- Caution: The signal word used on labels of slightly toxic or relatively nontoxic pesticides.
- Certified applicator: A person who has demonstrated through an examination process the ability to safely handle and apply restricted use pesticides.
- Chemical name: The official name given to a chemical compound to distinguish it from other chemical compounds.
- Common name: The recognized, nonscientific name given to pesticides.
- Danger: The signal word used on labels of highly hazardous pesticides due to serious health or environmental hazards.
- Directions for use: The instructions found on pesticide labels indicating the proper procedures for mixing and application.
- Establishment number: A number assigned to registered pesticides by the U.S. EPA that indicates the location of the manufacturing or formulation facilities of that product.
- Formulation: A mixture of active ingredient combined during manufacture with inert ingredients.
- Inert ingredients: All materials in the pesticide formulation other than the active ingredient. Some inert ingredients may be toxic or hazardous to people.
- Labeling: The pesticide label and all associated materials, including supplemental labels, special local needs registration information, and manufacturer’s information. The label is a legal document.
- Personal protective equipment (PPE): Devices and garments that protect handlers from exposure to pesticides. These include coveralls, eye protection, gloves, boots, respirators, aprons and hats.
- Registration number: Numbers assigned to a pesticide product to identify that the product has been approved by the U.S. EPA.
- Restricted-use pesticide: Highly hazardous pesticides that can only be possessed or used by applicators who are certified and licensed.
- Signal word: One of three words (Danger, Warning, Caution) found on pesticide labels to indicate the relative hazard of the chemical.
- Statement of practical treatment: A section of the pesticide label that provides information on treating people who have been exposed to the pesticide. This includes emergency first aid information.
- Toxicity: The degree or extent that a chemical or substance is poisonous.
- Warning: The signal word used on labels of pesticides considered to be moderately toxic or hazardous.
Pest problems occur in diverse settings, from agricultural to commercial and residential. In Florida, pest control is a year-round consideration and many times a pesticide will be chosen as part of the management plan for the problem. If a pesticide will be part of the management plan, understanding the contents of the pesticide label is essential for the product's safe and effective use.
The pesticide label is a very expensive document. The information on the pesticide label represents the research, development and registration procedures that a pesticide must undergo before reaching the consumer at the market, frequently at a cost of millions of dollars to the manufacturer. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires a manufacturer to submit data from nearly 150 tests prior to that product's approval for use, including toxicity, environmental persistence and many other factors that may affect how the pesticide will be safely and effectively used. The pesticide use information obtained in this process is referred to as the label or labeling, two similar words but with different meanings.
The label is the information printed on or attached to the pesticide container; it has several interpretations. To the manufacturer, the label is the product’s clearance to sell to applicators of pesticides. To governmental agencies, including the EPA, the label is a way to control the distribution, storage, sale, use and disposal of the product. To the buyer or user, the label should be considered as the main source of information on how to use the product correctly, legally and safely.
Labeling refers to all the information that you might receive from the company, their sales representatives or a local pesticide dealer about the product. This information may include brochures, flyers and other information accompanying the product.
Properly interpreting the pesticide label is crucial to selecting the most appropriate pesticide products for use and therefore receiving maximum benefit from their use. The length of a pesticide label varies widely, ranging from one to many pages of very fine print. While the label may seem overwhelming at first, it does not require a great amount of time to understand the information once the general format is recognized. Label content for a single product changes frequently; applicators of pesticides should review labels of products they will be using on a regular basis.
You should read the pesticide label:
- Before purchasing the pesticide to ensure that it is the correct one for the job;
- Before mixing the pesticide to ensure the proper pesticide concentration;
- Before applying the pesticide to ensure proper use; and
- Before storing of excess chemical or disposal of the empty container.
Information contained on most labels can be divided into four major categories: safety, environmental, product and use. This chapter discusses the contents of these categories and provides interpretations.
Child Hazard Warning
The front panel of every pesticide label must bear the statement, “KEEP OUT OF REACH OF CHILDREN.” Poisoning is a major cause of injuries to children. According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, pesticide exposure incidents occur in greater frequency to children under the age of six years than to older children, teens and adults on an annual basis.
A signal word is displayed in large letters on the front of the label to indicate approximately how acutely toxic the pesticide is to humans by ingestion. The signal word is based on the entire contents of the product, not the active ingredient alone, but takes into account the inert ingredients. The signal word does not indicate the risk of delayed or allergic effects. All highly toxic pesticides that are very likely to cause acute illness through oral, dermal, or inhalation exposure have DANGER as their signal word and will carry the word POISON printed in red with the skull-and-crossbones symbol. Products that have the DANGER signal word due to skin and eye irritation potential will not carry the word POISON or the skull-and-crossbones symbol.
|Signal word||Category||Oral lethal dose1|
|DANGER, POISON (skull and crossbones)||I Highly toxic||A few drops to a teaspoonful|
|WARNING||II Moderately toxic||Over a teaspoonful to one ounce|
|CAUTION||III Slightly toxic||Over one ounce to one pint|
|CAUTION||IV Relatively non-toxic||Over one pint to one pound|
1Based on a 150-pound person.
Statement of Practical Treatment
The labels for all highly toxic pesticides (signal word DANGER, Category I) must provide information to medical professional should an exposure occur. Examples of wording found in this section:
- “If swallowed: Immediately induce vomiting by touching back of throat with finger. Drink 1 or 2 glasses of water and induce further vomiting. Call a physician or poison control center immediately."
- "If in eyes: Hold eyelids open and flush with a steady, gentle stream of water for 15 minutes. Get medical attention."
- "If on skin: Wash skin with soap and water. Get medical attention."
It is in this section that proper antidotes and treatment are recommended for medical personnel treating a victim. For this reason, the pesticide label should always be taken to the emergency medical facility when an exposure occurs. Products labeled DANGER also bear an 800 telephone number that physicians may call for further treatment advice at any time. Often labels for less toxic pesticides will also provide first-aid instructions.
Hazards to Humans and Domestic Animals
This part of the label includes precautionary statements indicating specific hazards, routes of exposure and precautions to be taken to avoid human and animal injury. The label will contain statements that indicate which route of entry (mouth, skin, eyes, and lungs) that must particularly be protected and what specific action is needed to take to avoid acute effects from exposure to the pesticide. Examples of such statements seen in this section include:
- “Causes eye and skin irritation. Harmful if swallowed, inhaled or absorbed through skin.”
- “Do not get on skin or on clothing.”
- “Avoid breathing vapor or spray mist.”
- “Avoid contact with eyes.”
- “Prolonged or repeated skin contact may cause allergic reactions in some individuals.”
- “Wash thoroughly with soap and water after handling.”
Pesticides that the EPA considers to have the potential to cause delayed effects must have label statements warning the user of that fact. These statements will indicate whether the product has been shown to cause problems such as tumors or reproductive problems in laboratory animals. Additional information in this section will alert users if the product has the potential to cause allergic effects, such as skin irritation or asthma. Sometimes the labeling refers to allergic effects as "sensitization."
Personal Protective Equipment
Most pesticide labels contain specific instructions concerning the type of clothing that must be worn during the handling and mixing processes. This information is usually found following the statements regarding acute, delayed and allergic effects. Some labels may list this information after the signal word. Examples of some common statements from pesticide labels regarding personal protective equipment include:
- “chemical-resistant footwear plus socks”
- “long-sleeved shirt and long pants”
- “waterproof gloves”
- “protective eyewear” and many other similar statements
The personal protective equipment listed is the minimum protection that should be worn while handling the pesticide. Sometimes the statements will require different personal protective equipment for different pesticide handling activities, usually with greater safety equipment emphasis on operations that involve handling concentrated products. In some cases, reduced personal protective equipment is allowed when you will be applying the pesticide in safer situations, such as enclosed cabs.
This section of the label explains the nature of potential hazards and the precautions needed to prevent injury or damage to non-target organisms or to the environment. Some general statements appear on practically every pesticide label; for example, most pesticide labels will warn the user not to contaminate water sources when applying the pesticide, cleaning application equipment or disposing of pesticide wastes. It is also in this section that information can be found if the product poses a threat to groundwater. Instructions will be provided to minimize such impacts. Some labels will mention endangered species concerns in this section. Warnings of potential toxicity to honeybees may also be stated in this section. Examples of environmental hazard statements include:
- “This product is highly toxic to honeybees.”
- “This product is extremely toxic to fish and aquatic invertebrates.”
- “Do not apply where runoff is likely to occur.”
EPA is required to classify pesticides for either general use or restricted use. In classifying a pesticide, EPA considers:
- The toxicity of the pesticide;
- The way in which the pesticide will be used;
- The effect of the pesticide on the environment.
When a pesticide is classified as restricted, the label will state “Restricted Use Pesticide” at the top of the front panel. Below this heading may be a reason for the restriction. Although there is a federal list of restricted active ingredients determined by EPA, some states have their own lists of restricted products. Florida follows the federal guidelines for determining if a product is restricted. To purchase and apply restricted use pesticides, a person must be certified and licensed in the state of Florida.
A “general use pesticide” is defined as one that will not harm the applicator or the environment to an unreasonable degree when used according to label directions. General use pesticides are available to the general public for use according to label directions. Applicators in Florida who operate in areas regulated under the FDACS’ Bureau of Entomology and Pest Control Chapters 388 and 482, F.S. (mosquito and pest control operators) are required to be certified and licensed regardless of pesticide classification. In other cases, such as persons applying herbicides for aquatic and rights-of-way weed management, they may be required by their employer to be certified and licensed to apply any pesticide.
Brand (Trade) Name
Each manufacturer has a brand name for each of its products. Different manufacturers may use different brand names for the same pesticide active ingredient. For example, Reward® and Reglone® are trade names for the same herbicidal active ingredient, diquat. It is not legal to use different brand-name pesticides interchangeably even if they contain the same active ingredient. Each product label will state specifically the sites to which it may be applied. The brand name shows plainly on the front panel of the label.
This statement, normally on the front panel of the label, identifies the name and percentage by weight of each active ingredient. Identified by chemical or common name, the active ingredients are the components of the product that affect the target pest. The chemical name is often complex. For example, the chemical name for imazamox is 2-[4,5-dihydro-4-methyl-4-(1-methylethyl)-5-oxo-1H-imidazol-2-yl]-5-(methoxymethyl)-3-pyridinecarboxylic acid. To aid communication, EPA-approved common names may be substituted for chemical names. In this example, imazamox may be substituted for the chemical name. Usually following the list of ingredients, the amount of active ingredient is expressed as percent by weight for both liquid and dry formations of pesticides. For liquid pesticides, the number of pounds per gallon of active ingredient will be given in this section as well.
Inert ingredients allow active ingredients to be formulated into many different products. As part of the formulation, they determine a product's handling properties. Inert ingredients that are not considered to be toxic need not be named, but the label must show what percentage of the total contents they make up. These ingredients make the product safer, more effective and easier to handle.
The front panel of the pesticide label states how much is in the container. This can be expressed as pounds or ounces for dry formulations and as gallons, quarts, pints or fluid ounces for liquids.
EPA Registration Number
This number identifies a specific product and signifies that the product has met federal registration requirements through all of the testing phases. This number must have a minimum of two sets of digits. For example, if the EPA registration number is 901-358, “901” indicates the manufacturer, and the “358” is the specific number issued to identify the product by the EPA. Sometimes there will be a third set of numbers present. This set identifies the distributor. Some states will require that some registration numbers carry a set of letters in this code as well.
EPA Establishment Number
This number identifies the facility that formulated the product. In the event of questions or concerns regarding a product, the facility that made the pesticide can be determined. Although not common, quality control problems have been tracked to the facility that formulated the product when problems with a specific product were identified.
Name and Address of Manufacturer
The law requires the maker or distributor of a product to put the company name and address on the label. This enables consumers to know who made or sold the product. In many cases, the manufacturer will also list a telephone number and/or web address where users of the product may seek technical advice.
The front panel of some pesticide labels will describe the product formulation. The formulation name may be either spelled out or designated by an abbreviation, such as G for granular materials, WP for wettable powders, D for dusts or E or EC for emulsifiable concentrates. There are other formulations, but these are some of the more common. This information is helpful for practical purposes because it provides insight about the type of application equipment that will be needed and the product's handling properties.
Physical or Chemical Hazards
This section will tell of special fire, explosion or chemical hazards the product may pose. For example, it will alert you if the product is so flammable that you need to be especially careful to keep it away from heat or open flame or if it is so corrosive that it must be stored in a corrosion-resistant container. This section is not always found in the same location within the labeling. Some labeling will identify physical and chemical hazards in a designated box while other labeling may list them on the front panel beneath the signal word. Others may list hazards under headings such as "Note" or "Important." Examples include wording such as:
- “Do not use or store near heat or open flame.”
Some products will include statements concerning the diluted product such as:
- “Spray solutions of this product should be mixed, stored and applied using only stainless steel, aluminum, fiberglass, plastic or plastic-lined steel containers.”
Many other hazards may be found in this section.
Limited Warranty and Disclaimer
This statement conveys the manufacturer's assurance that the product conforms to the chemical description on the label and that it is fit for label purposes if used according to directions under normal conditions. The warranty does not extend to any use of the product contrary to label instructions, nor does it apply under abnormal conditions such as drought, tornadoes, hurricanes or excessive rainfall. Applicators who violate label instructions assume all liability associated with the product.
Directions for Use
This section usually makes up the bulk of a pesticide label and begins with the wording: "It is a violation of federal law to use this product in any manner inconsistent with its labeling." Products intended for use in agriculture will have an Agricultural Use Requirement box included in this section. It will contain the statement: "Use this product only in accordance with its labeling and with the Worker Protection Standard, 40 CFR part 170." The purpose is to inform those handling the product that the Worker Protection Standard applies to the product. When the Worker Protection Standard applies, a statement regarding information on employee notification of restricted entry intervals and applications, proper training, decontamination, emergency assistance and personal protective equipment is stated. The directions for use section will contain information such as:
- Sites, objects, animals, plants or areas where the product may be applied.
- The amount of product to use. This may be expressed as an amount per unit area, such as per surface acre. It may also be listed as an amount to mix per unit volume of water.
- A description of how the product should be applied and by which type of application equipment it is most effectively applied.
- The timing and frequency of application. For example, a label may state specifically time intervals between applications, such as "allow 10 or more days between applications."
- Limitations on water use following treatment. These will be given in specific terms. The water use restrictions may be very specific and given in terms of days. These statements will pertain to such uses as to when the water is safe to use for purposes such as drinking, fishing and swimming, livestock/domestic animal consumption, and irrigation to crops.
- The pests that the product controls. The user assumes all risks for applying the product for control of a pest that is not listed on any given products label.
- Any number of miscellaneous limitations associated with the product.
Storage and Disposal
Most, if not all, pesticide labels will contain a general statement in this section to the effect “do not contaminate water, food, or feed by storage, disposal, or cleaning of equipment” and “store in original containers only.” Label information about storage generally includes temperature requirements. In many cases, minimum and maximum storage temperatures will be provided in specific terms. Some pesticides become ineffective if not stored under suitable temperatures; other pesticide labels may indicate that if freezing occurs and crystals form, then the product may be reused if it is warmed up. Moisture is a critical concern with dry pesticides, including granular materials and wettable powders, which have a strong affinity for water. When this is the case, the label may have the statement, “store in a dry place.”
Labels include information on disposal of pesticide containers as well as excess quantities of diluted pesticide mixtures. The label will inform users that leftover mixtures that can't be applied to a labeled site may be disposed of in an approved waste disposal facility that is in accordance with appropriate federal, state and local procedures. With disposal of liquid pesticide containers, the triple-rinse procedure will be stated in this section of the label and options such as recycling or disposal of punctured containers in a sanitary landfill will be given. Manufacturers of returnable and refillable containers will remind the user to return the containers promptly and intact to the point of purchase. The label will state that bags containing dry pesticide products should be emptied thoroughly into the application equipment and incinerated or discarded into a sanitary landfill. Although burning of pesticide containers is legal in Florida, some counties and municipalities have enacted ordinances which prohibit such activities. Applicators should consult their local authorities to determine burning regulations.
UF/IFAS Extension Bookstore
Aquatic Pest Control Training Manual (Aquatic Category Exam) SM 003
K. A. Langeland and F. M. Fishel – Exam preparation and general reference manual for commercial or public applicators seeking certification and licensure to apply pesticides for aquatic plant control in Florida. Includes information on the history of aquatic plant management in Florida; rules and regulations of aquatic plant management; herbicide technology; adjuvants in aquatic plant management; equipment selection and methods of application; non-herbicide control methods; environmental and public health considerations and aquatic plant identification. 2010. 116 pp. $15.00
The Material Safety Data Sheet
Any chemical determined to be hazardous must have a material safety data sheet (MSDS) to communicate the hazard potential to users. The MSDS presents specific, technical information that would be useful in the event of a spill or misuse, and includes hazardous ingredients, data on physical, fire and explosion, reactivity, and health hazard properties, spill or leak procedures, and special precautions. See Understanding the Material Safety Data Sheet Language for further details about the MSDS and the important safety information it contains.
Label search engines including Greenbook and CDMS provide access to a wide array of pesticide labels and Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) information. You can also perform a web search using the herbicide trade name and EPA registration number, or search the manufacturer’s web page to find specimen label information.
Pesticide Information Office
The University of Florida Pesticide Information Office is an excellent resource for further information related to herbicides, applicator training and safety guidelines.
EDIS Extension Publications
- Interpreting Pesticide Label Wording
- Understanding the Material Safety Data Sheet Language
- EPA Approval of Pesticide Labeling
- The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) Continuing Education Unit (CEU) System for Certified Pesticide Applicators
- Licensing of Aquatic Herbicide Applicators in Florida
- Directions for Use
- Environmental Hazards Statements
- First Aid Statements
- Identification Numbers
- Ingredient Statements
- Labeling Claims
- Miscellaneous Label Parts
- Physical or Chemical Hazards
- Signal Words
- Storage and Disposal
- Unique Product Labeling