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Pesticide drift is the airborne movement of pesticides from an area of application to any unintended site. Drift can happen during pesticide application, when droplets or dust travel away from the target site. It can also happen after the application, when some chemicals become vapors that can move off-site. Pesticide drift can cause accidental exposure to people, animals, plants and property.

Particle and Vapor Drift

You might think of pesticide drift as the movement of spray droplets during application. This is called 'particle drift.' But, some pesticides are more likely to drift in the form of vapor. This can happen after an application even when the pesticide was applied as a solid or liquid. This is called 'vapor drift,' and an important factor is the pesticide's vapor pressure.

Pesticide drift can pose health risks to people and pets when sprays and dusts drift to nearby areas such as homes, schools, and playgrounds. Wildlife and plants are also at risk when drift affects natural areas and water sources. Herbicide drift can damage other nearby crops or make them unsellable if the active ingredient is not registered for a particular crop. Pesticide drift also results in wasted pesticide product. EPA estimates up to 70 million pounds of pesticides are lost to drift each year.

If you suspect a case of pesticide drift, contact your state pesticide regulatory agency. Often, it's illegal to apply pesticides in a manner that allows them to move off-site.

Reading the Pesticide Label

Reading the label is the first and most important way to minimize risk and exposure. Understanding the approved use instructions will help reduce the risk of drift. There are four main drift factors the EPA focuses on when reviewing pesticide product registrations:

Ways to minimize or prevent pesticide drift:

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

Additional Resources:

Last updated August 23, 2022