How many of us use mosquito spray? What about bleach to clean your bathroom? Hydrogen peroxide in your first-aid kit?
These are all pesticides.
I think people are extra nervous about this word. It does sound intimidating and dangerous. And in concentrated and excessive forms, it is.
Many mosquito sprays advise us to wash it off after returning indoors, and when cleaning with bleach, to wear rubber gloves and use in a well-ventilated area.
Agricultural pesticides are similar. Pesticide manufacturers advise us to wear gloves when mixing concentrated forms of pesticide with water to dilute it down before spraying on crops. If some of the chemical gets on our skin, we must wash it off. We should stand with the wind parallel to our bodies so we avoid inhaling pesticide vapors.
Thankfully, there are rules and regulations in place to ensure personal safety, as well as protect waterways and wildlife. …or so it seems.
I recently completed my Private Pesticide Application certification. Many farmers have this certification, although each state can have its own set of requirements and regulations for pesticide application.
The manual I read to prepare for my test in the state of Minnesota is quite thorough, it covers: pesticide laws (both federal and state), how to read a pesticide label, different formulations of pesticides to help determine which to use, precautions for protecting the environment, personal health and saftey, how to dispose of unused pesticides, and what to do in the event of a spill.
The manual was also very repetitive; important points were drilled into my head much more than once.
However, I discovered a few significant flaws in this program:
- The manual begins by defining an “Integrated Pest Management” system as “a way to control pests without relying solely on pesticides.” But the remainder of the manual is very pesticide-heavy. The steps for Integrated Pest Management have more to do with confirming a pest problem exists and determining when is the right time to apply pesticides for effectiveness.
- The actual test to become certified as a Private Pesticide Applicator is only 50 questions long. It focuses way too much on vocabulary rather than good practice related to that vocabulary. Eleven out of 50 questions were strictly vocabulary.
- Thirteen of the 50 questions on the exam covered rules and regulations, but focused more on which organization regulated an aspect of pesticide application rather than the regulations themselves.
- Only 3 of the 50 questions were specifically related to protecting the environment.
- Ten out of 50 questions were about personal safety.
- When I finished the exam, I was informed which questions I answered incorrectly, but was not told what the correct answers were (unless I wanted, out of my own choosing, to hunt for the correct ones).
I was surprised and disappointed in the exam. If the questions on this test are any indication, personal safety and the environment are of the least concern to the state of Minnesota.
This open-book exam is the only step to become a Private Pesticide Applicator. Earning 80% on the exam is considered a passing grade. A pesticide application certificate is available immediately after the exam is completed (provided the exam taker earned passing marks), and the new pesticide applicator, if they wanted, can leave the exam to begin applying pesticides that same day.
I often find myself defending agriculture and disproving misperceptions about the farming industry, but this time, I think the public has it right to be concerned. I will most definitely provide these critiques to the exam preparers.
I do think there are some great regulations in place for pesticide application. If only there were a better system for ensuring they were followed.