August 5, 2013

Take precautions when using pesticides


---- — My dog, Oliver, thinks that anything that sounds remotely like kibble or dog cookies rattling around in a box or can should be for him.  

If it’s one of his regular meals, he waits patiently for it to be placed on his plate before he gobbles it down. If he thinks it’s something we dropped, or do not intend for him to have, he pounces and wolfs it down before we have a chance to grab it. This is not good dog manners, but more than that, it’s dangerous.

This is why, when I am working in the garden, I am very careful not to use any product that could harm him if he is nearby. Even if I’m spraying a water-soluble fertilizer, he is inside or on his tether. If I am using a product indoors, he is outdoors. Perhaps I should have trained him better, but realistically, knowing his “enthusiasm” to get to something he thinks is food, I don’t take chances with his health.

Whether you have pets, wildlife, birds, children or grandchildren, you need to be mindful of what you use in your home or garden and when. Even fish emulsion, blood meal and manure are products that can be harmful if they are not used properly. They should be kept away from curious children and pets. Ollie would eat the fish emulsion and blood meal and roll in the manure in short order. Not a pleasant scenario.

Knowing the precautions to take when using garden and household products is as simple as reading the labels. Pesticides in particular need to be used thoughtfully and according to the directions. A pesticide is any product, for indoor or outdoor use, that is used to kill, repel or control a pest. This includes insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, rodenticides and disinfectants. It can be in the form of a dust, granules, sprays or baits.

Exposure to pesticides can be through ingestion, inhalation or absorption. When reading the label of products you use, look for the signal word. This is usually found near the warning to “Keep out of reach of children.” Products available to consumers will be labeled either “caution,” meaning it is slightly toxic or relatively non-toxic; “warning,” which indicates a moderately toxic substance; or “danger,” which is highly toxic. Check to see if it is toxic to bees or other pollinators, and make note of re-entry time, the time after which it is safe for people or pets to enter the treated area. For animals especially, walking on treated areas before they are fully dry exposes them to unnecessary risk. Remember, animals lick their paws, so their exposure could be via absorption and ingestion.

Some products, such as bait for rodents, snails, slugs and ants, are made to be appealing to the varmints you are trying to control. They can be just as attractive to pets or wildlife that have access to them. Some granular fertilizers may be appealing to birds, especially if they look like seed, or to pets like Ollie, which hear the rattling and wait for it to hit the ground. When disposing of empty containers or cleaning-application equipment, do so per the recommendations on the label, and remember that we live in an area where runoff eventually ends up in the streams, rivers and lakes that make the North Country so special.

Pesticides are beneficial if used when, where and how they are intended to be. When needed, choose the least toxic product to do the job and use it properly. Using it improperly is not only hazardous, but increases the chances that you will not obtain the results you expected. Protect yourselves and the Olivers in your life.

Jolene Wallace is the horticulture program educator for Cornell Cooperative Extension in Clinton County. Contact her at 561-7450 or