A pesticide is any substance or mixture of substances to prevent, destroy, repel, or mitigate any pest. Pests
can be insects, mice and other animals, weeds, fungi, or microorganisms like bacteria and viruses. Pesticides include
herbicides, fungicides, and various other substances used to control pests. EPA has a pesticide website,
that defines pesticides in more detail. The University of Nebraska's pesticide website,
has some additional background information.
Medfly feeding on a bait-dye mixture. Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of Agriculture Photo center at
Pesticides are useful because they can kill potential disease-causing organisms and control insects, weeds,
and other pests, but can pose risks to human health and the environment.
Pesticides have long been an important factor in Florida's agricultural productivity and in protecting public
health. At the same time, because of their inherent toxic properties, a number of pesticides can pose risks to human health
and the environment. Throughout the years many pesticides have been banned, canceled, or suspended by the U. S. Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) because of their potential risk to human health. Some of these include DDT, lead arsenate, chlordane,
toxaphene, and parathion. More are likely to be cancelled as EPA reviews new data that is being submitted for older chemicals.
Farmers, golf course operators, and pest control personnel may still have these cancelled and suspended products in storage as
they await the availability of affordable disposal options. However, long term storage of these pesticides can pose
unnecessary risks to employees, surrounding communities, and the environment, especially through ground and surface water
contamination. The EPA pesticide website at
has additional information.
There are several reports and incidents that illustrate these potential risks. For example, the EPA has
approximately 20 Florida Superfund sites that have pesticides listed as a contaminant of concern (search "Florida" and
"Pesticides" for Contaminants of Concern on
And, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has reported several fatality cases linked to employee pesticide
exposure since 1988 (query keyword "pesticide" for fatalities on
A recent farm tractor fire
in north central Florida involving pesticides sickened some of the volunteer firefighters who put out the blaze. In a very sad
case, an Iowa boy died in 1994 after eating tablets that he thought were candy but instead turned out to be the pesticide
Lindane. The boy had been rummaging around in an outdoor collection bin used by a local charity. These tragic occurrences
demonstrate the importance of proper pesticide management and disposal.