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National Pesticide Information Center

npic@ace.orst.edu

1.800.858.7378

Understanding Pesticide Risks

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Many people believe that some pesticides are safe, while others are dangerous. Actually, the words "safe" and "dangerous" are misleading. Any chemical, including any pesticide, can pose risks to people, pets, or the environment. Understanding pesticide risk will help you take steps to minimize it.

The risk of a pesticide depends on two things, exposure (how much?) and toxicity (how poisonous?). The exposure is the amount you get in or on your body, or the amount that is released into the environment. The toxicity of a pesticide is measure of how poisonous it is to people or the environment.

Even products that are low in toxicity can be hazardous if the exposure is high enough. This is the basis for the argument that, "the dose makes the poison." For example, one aspirin is beneficial for pain or certain medical conditions, but too much aspirin could be very hazardous. As the amount of exposure (the dose) increases, so does the risk.

Pesticides often contain more than one ingredient, and each one may have a different toxicity. One easy way to estimate the toxicity of a pesticide product is to look at the signal word. Most pesticides will have either the word CAUTION, WARNING, or DANGER on the label, and that signal word reflects the toxicity of the product:

CAUTION represents the lower toxicity products

WARNING indicates medium toxicity products

DANGER stands for the highest toxicity products

Our page on Minimizing Pesticide Risks provides more information on how to reduce pesticide risks.

If you have questions about your pesticide risk, or any pesticide-related topic, please call NPIC at 1-800-858-7378 (8:00am - 12:00pm PST), or email us at npic@ace.orst.edu.

Additional Information:

Evaluating Pesticide Risk

Pesticide Toxicity

Pesticide Exposure

Last updated November 14, 2012