Pesticides are hazardous chemicals designed to kill or repel insects, plants, and other pests. The term pesticide applies to insecticides, herbicides (weed-killers), fungicides, rodenticides, disinfectants, and other substances used to control pests. Many pesticides contain volatile and/or semi-volatile chemicals that contribute to poor indoor air and environmental quality (IAQ/IEQ).
A pesticide product consists of the active ingredient(s) and "inert" ingredients. Active ingredients are the chemicals that kill or repel the pest. The rest of the product is composed of "inert" ingredients, which often comprise over 95% of the pesticide product. "Inert" ingredients are commonly solvents and may be as, or more, toxic than the active ingredient(s).
Individuals exposed to pesticides are at risk for both acute and chronic health effects (4, 5, 6, 7). Pesticide exposures can exacerbate asthma and cause nausea, headaches, rashes, dizziness, fatigue and memory loss. Many pesticides are also linked with causing cancer, birth defects, neurological and reproductive disorders, and the onset and exacerbation of chemical sensitivities. Pesticide exposure can occur long after its application because pesticide products are often designed to be persistent in the environment.
For people who are chemically sensitive, exposure to even minute amounts of pesticides from, for example, pesticide drift from neighborhood lawn treatments, driving on a road where herbicides have been sprayed weeks earlier, or being in a building that was treated with pesticides even several years earlier, can cause severe, sometimes, life-threatening and/or prolonged illness (8). Thus the presence of pesticides is one of the greatest access barriers for people with chemical sensitivities.
The use of pesticides can be eliminated or significantly reduced through implementation of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) programs. IPM is a program of prevention, monitoring, record-keeping, and control that eliminates or drastically reduces the use of pesticides. The focus of IPM is to prevent pest problems by reducing or eliminating sources of pest food, water, and shelter and by maintaining healthy lawns and landscapes. The first approach to controlling a pest outbreak is to improve sanitation, make structural repairs (such as fixing leaky pipes and caulking cracks), and using physical or mechanical controls such as screens, traps and mechanical weed cutters. A least hazardous chemical is used only when other strategies have failed.
IPM strategies are being increasingly implemented in schools, parks, government facilities, and hospitals nationwide. One needs to be aware, however, that the term IPM is sometimes inappropriately used for pest management programs that use or recommend the use of significant amounts of pesticides.