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Amy wants to treat her home for fleas with a pesticide product, but she is not sure what product to use. She wants to use a pesticide that is environmentally friendly and safe for her family. After reading many webpages promoting products as "safe," "natural," "green," or "non-toxic," Amy became confused because the product labels had hazard statements that suggested the materials could be harmful. Amy decided to call the National Pesticide Information Center for more information about what products would be the best to use around her family, and safe for the environment.

Take Home Message

The Pesticide Specialist explained that the term "safe" can mean something different to everyone. Pesticides by their nature are meant to kill or repel a living organism, and therefore have some level of risk. The U.S. EPA does not allow safety claims, such as "non-toxic," "green," or "natural," in the labeling of any registered product. These words can incorrectly convey a sense of safety, and possibly result in carelessness during application. For example, the term "non-toxic" can be misleading when applied to pesticides, since a pesticide must have certain toxicity in order to kill a pest. These terms may be used occasionally in marketing materials, but they do not appear on the product labels.

The Pesticide Specialist told Amy that the term "natural" means that the product's ingredients are not human-made. However, this doesn't always mean the product is less toxic or has no risk. Some of the most toxic substances on earth are natural, such as snake venom, ricin, and arsenic. Similarly, the term "green" is not defined by any regulatory agency, which makes it open to interpretation by the consumer and marketing companies.

On the other hand, pesticides used in organic agriculture are clearly defined and must comply with specific standards set by the USDA National Organic Program. They cannot contain most human-made chemicals or genetically modified organisms. Some of these products are low in toxicity and considered minimum-risk pesticides. However, one must remember that just because a pesticide is allowed in organic gardening, does not mean that it is 100% "safe." Some pesticides used in organic production can be very toxic.

The Pesticide Specialist described ways to identify low-risk or "green" products such as:

The specialist also discussed ways to minimize the use of pesticides when dealing with fleas by using an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach. Finally, the Pesticide Specialist mentioned additional ways to minimize the risk to her, her family, and the environment. If she chooses to use a pesticide, follow safe use practices and read and follow the label instructions.