Are pesticides safe?
The word "pesticides" includes many products, like:
- herbicides to control weeds
- fungicides to control certain types of plant diseases
- insecticides to control bugs
- rodenticides to control rats, mice, and other rodents
- sanitizers for swimming pools and spas to control micro-organisms
Pesticides are made from both man-made (synthetic) and naturally occurring (biochemical) active ingredients. For example, the lawn care product 2,4-D is synthetic, while a pesticide with acetic acid (found in vinegar) is biochemical.
What are pesticides used for?
Pesticides touch many aspects of your life: from the apple in your lunch box, to the products you use to clean your pool.
Pests - like carpenter ants, rats, and aphids - can affect our quality of life in many ways. They can damage buildings, spread diseases, and kill crops. Controlling pests is important for protecting our health, maintaining our food supply, and supporting forestry and agriculture.
Pesticides are often used to prevent, control, or destroy pests when other methods fail. Some pesticides can be used around your home. Others are only for commercial and restricted use.
Pesticides are strictly regulated in Canada. Health Canada only registers products that will not harm human health or the environment. Health Canada does not register pesticides that are known to cause cancer or other illnesses when used according to label directions.
But pesticides can be hazardous. Whether they are man-made or naturally occurring, pesticides can harm people, pets, and the environment if not used carefully. Like many other chemical products, pesticides are toxic and can cause injury, like burns and poisoning.
To use pesticides safely, you have to read and follow all label directions. When buying a pesticide, always look for a Pest Control Products (PCP) number on the label. This way you know the product has been tested and approved by Health Canada.
Risks to children and other vulnerable groups
When registering pesticide products, Health Canada pays special attention to vulnerable groups, like infants and children, pregnant and nursing mothers, and seniors. We have strict health and safety standards to protect people at risk.
To be safe, follow these safety tips:
- Always follow all label warnings and instructions.
- Keep children, pregnant and nursing women, people who often have allergic reactions, and seniors out of the area when applying pesticides.
- Also keep them out for at least 24 hours after, until the product is dry.
- Keep all pesticide products out of reach of children.
Side effects and reporting incidents
If pesticides are used according to label directions, you should not experience side effects.
But some people may be more sensitive to chemicals in general, and may have allergic reactions or other health effects. Also, if pesticides are not used properly, you could be overexposed to the product and experience health problems. If you notice health problems and suspect overexposure to a pesticide, get medical help right away.
Report problems with pesticides to the manufacturer listed on the label. They must report them to Health Canada. Damaged or defective packaging should also be reported. You can also report problems to Health Canada. Have the information for the specific product you used available when you call or write.
For cases of accidental poisoning:
- Call a poison control centre right away and get medical help.
- Take the pesticide container or label with you to the emergency room or doctor.
- Follow first aid statements on the label.
- In case of accidental poisoning of pets, get veterinary help right away.
Buying pesticides online
There are many websites that sell pest control products. Unfortunately, many of these are not approved for sale in Canada, and have not been tested by Health Canada for safety.
Unregistered pesticides may be unsafe, and may make false claims. Only buy and use products with a Pest Control Products (PCP) number on the label. If you do decide to buy a product online, check the Pesticide Product Information Database to see if it is registered for sale in Canada.
Preparing, storing, and using homemade pesticides can be dangerous to your health and the environment. Homemade pesticides do not undergo any scientific testing. They do not have label directions to help you use them safely. Any pesticide should be used carefully, whether it's store-bought or homemade. Learn more about homemade pesticides.
Government of Canada's role
Your health and safety is a priority for the government of Canada. All pesticides must be registered before they can be imported, sold, or used in Canada. Health Canada does a lot of testing and scientific review on products before registering them. We only register a pesticide when it works well to control a pest. We also have to be reasonably certain that it won't cause harm to human health, future generations, or the environment.
We set limits on the amount of pesticide residue that can safely be left on food. We place conditions on how pesticides should be used and applied to be safe and effective. We make sure the manufacturer includes these instructions on product labels. Finally, we monitor and enforce the rules, to make sure that pesticides are used properly.
All registered pesticides must be re-evaluated every 15 years to make sure they continue to meet the most modern health and environmental standards. This happens even sooner if new information becomes available.
Have questions about pesticide safety or want to report a pesticide being misused? Call the Pest Management Information Service at 1-800-267-6315 (toll free in Canada).
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