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Information for the Public

Pesticides can be important tools which, in the hands of an informed applicator, offer many potential benefits. But pesticides can also pose risks if improperly used. That's why the Maine Board of Pesticides Control (BPC) works hard to help people outsmart pests by arming them with the best available pest management science.

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Pesticide Resources for the Public

What is a pesticide?

pes-ti-cide: any substance used to kill, repel or otherwise control a pest. Pesticides are often referred to by the type of pest they control: insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, rodenticides and disinfectants (to name a few).

The term pesticide covers a wide range of products. By definition, a pesticide is any naturally or synthetically derived substance used to kill, control, mitigate or repel undesired insects, weeds, fungi, bacteria, rodents or other organisms. Pesticides are used by both conventional and organic farmers, as well as many others, and may be made from natural or biological ingredients. Products labeled "natural" or which are approved for organic food use are also pesticides, as are rooting hormones and other plant regulators. Consequently, these substances include insecticides (bug sprays); herbicides (weed killers, including ‘weed & feed’ products); fungicides (disease controls); rodenticides; defoliants; growth regulators; and disinfectants (including mold controls). Even home-made products used to control pests are considered pesticides, and are regulated in some circumstances.

Pesticides registered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are tested for human and environmental effects and registered for certain uses. General-use pesticides are available to the general public, and are found in many products used by homeowners and gardeners. They have an EPA registration number on the label. In some cases an applicator license is required to use general-use pesticides. Restricted-use pesticides are so designated by the EPA and always require an applicator license for use. Some pesticide products are exempt from testing and registration by the EPA but are not exempt from registration by the BPC.  A license may be required to use these products as well.

Common types of pesticides

  • Algicides control algae in swimming pools, lakes, canals and water used industrially or stored
  • Biocides kill microorganisms
  • Disinfectants and sanitizers kill or inactivate disease-producing microorganisms (like bacteria and viruses) on inanimate objects
  • Fungicides kill fungi (many infect and cause diseases in plants, animals and people; examples: rusts, mildews, blights and molds)
  • Fumigants produce gas or vapor to destroy insects, fungi, bacteria or rodents
  • Herbicides kill weeds and other plants
  • Insecticides kill insects
  • Miticides kill mites that feed on plants and animals
  • Microbials microorganisms that kill, inhibit or out compete pests, including insects or other microorganisms
  • Molluscicides kill snails and slugs
  • Nematicides kill nematodes (microscopic, wormlike organisms that feed on plant roots)
  • Ovicides kill eggs of insects and mites
  • Repellents repel pests, including birds and insects
  • Rodenticides control mice and other rodent pests
  • Rooting hormones and other plant regulators
  • Search for Maine Registered Products

How to Read a Pesticide Label

pesticide label

Reading the pesticide label is your first line of action when handling any pesticide. And it’s important to note that a pesticide label is legally enforceable document that all applicators are obliged to adhere to.

You should read the label

  • before buying the product
  • before using the product
  • before giving first aid to someone poisoned by the product
  • before storing the product
  • before disposing of an empty container

When reading the label look for

  1. Poison or Danger, Warning and Caution
    These words indicate the level of hazard associated with the product in decreasing order of toxicity. Keep in mind any product bearing one of these words pose some degree of hazard worth exercising care.
  2. Active Ingredients
    Active ingredients are the chemicals and their concentrations that are responsible for its pest-controlling properties. Inert ingredients are chemicals that enhance the active ingredient's utility for stable shelf life or ease of use.
  3. Target Pests
    Target pests and application sites tell the user what pests the product controls and where it can be used. If your pest or application site don't match up, don't use the product!
  4. Hazards
    Look at hazards very closely. Language such as toxic to fish or flammable lets you know how to prevent a problem.
  5. Precautionary Statements
    This usually reinforces how to avoid the product's hazards and will indicate medical treatment or antidote. If you need to wear protective clothing or if there's a waiting period before you can safely reenter a treated area it will note it here.
  6. How to Use, Store and Dispose
    The label gives important mixture directions for concentrates, what equipment is necessary to apply the pesticide and what conditions are required for the product to be effective. Following storage and disposal directions avoids problems after the product has been used.
  7. Days to Harvest
    This part of the label directs food gardeners how long they must wait before picking or eating fruit and vegetables.
  8. Manufacturer or Distribute
    Further information about the product is available from this source.

In Case of Pesticide Poisonings

Key Phone Numbers

  • Northern New England Poison Center: 1-800-222-1222
  • National Pesticide Information Center: 1-800-858-7378

There's no one symptom of pesticide poisoning. Signs can range from mild flu-like symptoms to death. Different pesticides produce different symptoms. All require prompt medical attention.

External injury

  • irritation or allergic reaction to skin (redness, swelling or blistering)
  • stinging, swelling or burning of eyes, nose, mouth and throat

Internal injury

  • lungs: shortness of breath, dizziness or rapid breathing
  • gastrointestinal: nausea, vomiting, cramps or diarrhea
  • nervous system: dizziness, fatigue, blurry vision, dilated pupils, sleepiness, headache, muscle twitching or loss of sensation

What to do

  1. immediately stop exposure to the pesticide
  2. get victim or self into the fresh air and give first aid as cited on the pesticide label's Precautionary Statement
  3. contact your physician, nearest hospital or Maine's Poison Control Center (1-800-222-1222); have pesticide label handy when calling

Pesticide Spills

Limit your exposure to the chemical

  • immediately remove contaminated clothing and wash skin with soap and water
  • avoid hot water that opens pores
  • avoid abrasive soaps that redden skin

Attend to the spill

  • provide ample ventilation for your safety
  • liquids: use an absorbent material to dam its path, covering the entire spill. Absorbents include activated charcoal, vermiculite, kitty litter, saw dust, limestone, wood ash (if none are available use fine, dry dirt or newspaper)
  • powders: sweep and gather with disposable tools: newspaper, sticks, cardboard, scrap wood. If you use a shovel or trowel, be sure to hose off thoroughly after use.
  • keep spilled pesticide in a rust-free container, preferably plastic
  • clearly mark pesticide's name and approximate quantity on container
  • store container as you would any pesticide until it can be disposed of properly


  • you need to call the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) as soon as possible at 1-800-452-4664 or 1-800-482-0777. A DEP specialist will advise whether further steps for clean up are necessary as well as how you can properly dispose of the soaked absorbent.

Last steps

  • wrap makeshift clean up tools in newspaper and dispose with regular trash
  • wash contaminated clothes separately from other clothing several times in hot water and detergent
  • run washing machine without a load to flush out remaining residues

Pesticide Storage and Disposal

  • Read the label
    • Read the product's label for storage directions.
  • Buy only what you need
    • Buy only the amount you need. Even a small container of a given pesticide concentrate may take years for the occasional applicator to use. Also, pesticides generally have a limited shelf life under normal storage conditions. Premixed, ready-to-use products minimize storage and are less toxic than concentrated formulations of the same material.
  • Storage 101
    • Store pesticides away from children, pets, food, animal feed, water, cleaning supplies or seeds. Use a locked cabinet or a locked, well-ventilated utility area such as a shed. Keep products off the floor and out of damp places. Keep containers closed tight and set them upright to prevent spills and with labels in full view.
    • Use a storage area or cabinet that is away from direct sunlight and heat sources, but not in freezing temperatures. Heat can over-pressurize pesticide containers to the point their contents spill when opened. Freezing temperatures can make products less effective.
    • Always keep pesticides in the original container or bag with its label intact. The label needs to show ingredients, directions for use and emergency information in case of poisoning. If a container holding a liquid pesticide shows signs of damage or deterioration, place the entire container into another, preferably of plastic. Try to preserve the label so that it may be adhered to the new container, or identify the new container fully. An open or torn bag can be sealed entirely in a clear plastic bag that shows the label.
    • Never pour pesticides outright into soft drink bottles or other containers that a child may associate with drink or food.
  • Herbicides
    • Store herbicides separately from other pesticides. Some herbicides vaporize and may contaminate other pesticides. A tainted insecticide could eventually damage the very plants you intended to safeguard against insects.
  • Disposal
    • The best way to dispose of an unwanted pesticide is to apply the product according to the label directions. If you cannot, check with a neighbor, gardener, greenhouse keeper or farmer to see if they may routinely use the product.
    • No takers? Then call the BPC. We'll find a responsible individual who will apply your useable pesticides as they were intended.
    • Don't be tempted to dump unwanted pesticides, hoping they'll go away. Because, well they won't! Deep-sixing a pesticide down the toilet or drain could corrode plumbing, create toxic fumes and damage septic and sewage systems. The chemical can also seep into groundwater, lakes and streams. Burying pesticides could contaminate soil and groundwater. And throwing pesticides out with the weekly trash could injure trash and landfill personnel, and groundwater may be polluted. Lastly, burning pesticides is illegal and can lead to toxic fumes or even explosions.
    • Even empty containers are serious business. Residues may remain inside. A thoughtless toss in the trash or the burning of empty bags invite smaller doses of the same big problem.
    • Before disposing of an empty container, rinse it at least three times with water and apply the rinsate as if it were the actual pesticide. Puncture plastic and metal— but never aerosol—containers to prevent reuse. Replace cap or closure securely. Then wrap in several layers of newspaper to prevent children, pets and garbage crews from inadvertent exposure.

Hiring a Professional

  • Shop around
    • Ask friends, neighbors or business associates for names of firms who have done a good job. Get bids from several companies and select by value, not price. Be wary of special deals-cutting corners on your safety is no bargain.
  • Find comprehensive program
    • Avoid firms that "spray and split." Look for companies that offer a complete service. For instance, a thorough lawn care program will include soil analysis, fertilizing, seeding and aeration along with advice for homeowner care for the lawn's watering and mowing.
    • Competent pest management professionals will outline a program that identifies pests to be controlled, the extent of infestation, pesticides intended for use and steps you can take to minimize future infestations.
  • Ask to see a license
  • Check references
    • A company that wants your business may offer several references, but don't depend entirely on the salesman's pitch. Check the company's track record with Maine's Better Business Bureau in Portland (207-878-2715).
  • Check insurance
    • Maine law requires every professional application firm to carry general liability insurance.
  • Check for professional associations
    • Professional associations usually train members on the latest developments in technology, safety, research and regulations. They also require members to follow codes of ethics. So, if a pest management or lawn care company belongs to a professional association-be it local, state or national-it's likely the firm shows a commitment to integrity.
  • Get a written contract
    • Be sure of the following before you sign on the dotted line:
      • Agree to a contract that is effective for a fixed period of time. The contract should be for pest management, not just pesticide application. The program should include regular inspections for pest activity and advice on how to prevent pest problems.
      • Pesticide application should only occur when active pest infestations are discovered. Spot applications should be favored over broadcast treatments.
      • Review the labels of pesticides and discuss techniques the applicator intends to use. Ask if less-toxic equally effective alternatives are available. Also ask about special instructions regarding how long you should stay out of the treated area (until dry, 4 hours, 12 hours, etc.)
      • Alert the applicator to particular health issues within your family. The BPC toxicologist can help identify specific interactions. Contact the BPC toxicologist at 207-287-2731.

Using Insect Repellents Properly

The BPC recommends the following precautions when using insect repellents:

  • Repellents should only be applied to exposed skin and/or clothing (as directed on the product label). Do not use under clothing.
  • Never use repellents over cuts, wounds, or irritated skin.
  • Do not apply to eyes and mouth, and apply sparingly around ears. When using sprays do not spray directly onto face; spray on hands first and then apply to face.
  • Do not allow children to handle repellents, and do not apply to children's hands. When using on children, apply to your own hands and then put it on the child.
  • Do not spray in enclosed areas. Avoid breathing a repellent spray, and do not use it near food.
  • Use just enough repellent to cover exposed skin and/or clothing. Heavy application and saturation is unnecessary for effectiveness; if biting insects do not respond to a thin film of repellent, apply a bit more.
  • After returning indoors, wash treated skin with soap and water or bathe. This is particularly important when repellents are used repeatedly in a day or on consecutive days. Also, wash treated clothing before wearing it again.
  • If you suspect that you or your child are reacting to an insect repellent, discontinue use, wash treated skin and then call the Northern New England Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222. If/when you go to a doctor, take the repellent with you.

You and your doctor can get specific medical information about the active ingredients in repellents and other pesticides by calling the Northern New England Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222 or the National Pesticide Information Center at 1-800-858-7378. Get fact sheet on the ingredient DEET (PDF).

Vectorborne Disease Management, Public Health and Pesticides

Aquatic Herbicides: Can Homeowners Buy and Apply?

In May 2003, the BPC adopted a regulation (Chapter 41, Section 4) to control aquatic herbicides at the point of sale. This action was taken in response to concerns expressed by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and private citizens that the general public—influenced by the threat of invasive plants like milfoil and advertised eradication claims of chemical products—were purchasing and applying aquatic herbicides without the required discharge permit.

Only licensed applicators can purchase aquatic herbicides. If you wish to buy an aquatic herbicide to control weeds along the waterfront of your home, you will need to obtain a DEP permit and hire a licensed commercial applicator.

Questions? Call the BPC at 207-287-2731.