Pesticide Exposure: What Should I Do?

Hello Avid Readers! As pest management professionals we may use pesticides as part of our IPM programs. It is very important to read the label and follow all safety measures to avoid pesticide exposure. However, accidents will happen, and we must know what kinds of exposure there are and how to deal with exposure if it happens.  IF YOU HAVE BEEN EXPOSED TO PESTICIDES FOLLOW SAFETY INSTRUCTIONS ON THE LABEL or CALL POISON CONTROL IMMEDIATELY (800-222-1222). Read more to find out about types of pesticide exposure such as ocular, oral, dermal, and inhalation and what to do if they occur.

What Should I Do (if I’m Exposed)?

I’ll cut to the point here and get to the more educational material later. If pesticide exposure occurs your response will likely be based on the severity of the exposure which is detailed below and in other blogs from the PIO. Exposure to a low toxicity product with minimal contact can be addressed by referring to the to the first aid portion of the label. If the product is highly toxic, exposure was great, or you are unsure of the toxicity, you should immediately call your poison control center. You can get help online or via phone here. Make sure you have the information from the label to report to them. They will need to know the product you used, the extent to which you were exposed (how much), and which kind of exposure (which part of your body). I describe the types of bodily exposure below.

Bodily Exposure

Pesticide exposure can be discussed in various manners. One way is to discuss how much or how frequently a person was exposed and the symptoms that result. Dr. Brett Bultemeier has done that well in his blog Pesticide Exposure: Types and Symptoms.  It can also be discussed according to where exposure has occurred on the body. There are several types of pesticide exposure based on where the chemical came into contact with the body

Oral exposure

This type occurs when pesticide gets in your mouth. This is usually through some kind of unintentional act like eating without washing your hands. The severity of this kind of exposure depends on the oral toxicity of the material and how much was ingested. Wash your hands after using pesticides before eating or smoking.

The outline of a human body with exposure rates pointing to different parts of the body
Different areas of your body have different exposure rates. (Figure taken from Ogg et al. 2018)

Dermal exposure

This is the most common type of bodily of exposure. This could happen anytime you are handing pesticides from mixing to application to wrapping things up. It also may occur through residuals on treated surfaces. For more information on residuals check out the pesticide persistence blog. The severity of dermal exposure depends on several things. These include, the dermal toxicity of the pesticide, the rate of absorption through the skin, the size of the area of skin that was exposed, how long it was in contact with your skin, and how much of the pesticide got on you (Figure 1).

Inhalation Exposure

Breathing a pesticide into the lungs results in inhalation exposure. Dusts, vapors, or spray particles are known to cause this type of exposure. Be aware of the products you are using and their toxicity because inhalation exposure can be more serious with some pesticides than others. It is important to read the product label to ensure whether or not you need to wear a respirator to protect yourself from inhalation exposure. Remember, you can always wear additional PPE if you are concerned. Movement of pesticides to the bloodstream occurs rapidly when inhalation occurs. This distributes the toxin to other parts of the body.

Ocular exposure

This is when you get pesticides in your eye. Humans eyes are very absorbent so this can be dangerous. Like inhalation the pesticide can be quickly transported to the bloodstream to other areas of the body. Pesticides may enter the eye by splashing while mixing, dusts, spray particles, broken hoses, or rubbing your eyes. The PIO has a blog on what to if you get pesticide in your eye. It is important to act quickly in this situation and ensure you do not contaminate your other eye or other parts of your body.


READ THE LABEL! Follow all label instructions. Wearing the correct PPE can prevent most pesticide exposure. The lable will always indicate the minimum amount and type of PPE needed to protect yourself. Also be careful and attentive when removing PPE. Ensuring that it is done properly and that you do not expose yourself after the application is over. Being cautious and attentive goes a long way in preventing exposure. Many of the exposure incidents reported occur because someone was moving quickly or carelessly. It is also helpful to know the risk associated with your product. Below in Table 1 you can see the signal words that are on labels and how they relate to toxicity. This and the amount and type of exposure can tell you the level of risk with that product. This is sometimes indicated by the formula: Risk= Toxicity X Exposure

Two tables about pesticide xposure. One shows signal words and the other fist aid for exposure
You know what they say about an ounce of prevention right? Read your labels so you know what you’re dealing with and what to do in case of exposure. (Table taken from Ogg et al. 2018)

It is also useful to be aware of the activities that most often lead to exposure. Those are discussed in another of Dr. Bultemeier’s blogs here.


Even the most careful applicators may experience pesticide exposure. Many factors play a part in the outcome of pesticide exposure. It is a broad topic that includes the toxicity or the product, the amount one was exposed to, how often exposure occurred, and the location on the body all playing a part in the outcome. Preparing properly is the best prevention. Read the label and understand the potential for exposure and the first aid you may need if exposed. If you are exposed and are not sure how sever the situation is call poison control.





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Posted: June 6, 2024

Category: Agriculture, HOME LANDSCAPES, UF/IFAS Extension
Tags: Pesticide, Pesticide Exposure, PPE

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