Personal safety

Before you grab that spray bottle or can of dust off the shelf and head out to the garden, pause to check your personal attire. No matter how innocuous the pesticide, you must protect yourself from potential harm. Here's what you need:

  • Long sleeves: Cover your arms and legs completely. If you're spraying trees, wear a raincoat with a hood for extra protection.
  • Shoes: No sandals, please, and don't forget the socks.
  • Hat: Your scalp absorbs chemicals easily. Also remember to cover your neck.
  • Gloves: I use disposable rubber gloves, especially when measuring and mixing concentrated pesticides with water.
  • Goggles: Eyeglasses aren't enough. Use safety goggles that enclose your eyes and protect them from spray.
  • Dust mask or respirator: Protect your lungs and sensitive membranes from damage. Use a special respirator with filters (available from garden centers, farm supply outlets, and mail-order catalogs) when spraying pesticides. A dust mask is helpful only when you're applying nontoxic dusts to prevent inhalation.

Other toxic chemicals

Many chemicals — both natural and can depend on the sensitivity of different test synthetic — are toxic to one degree or another. animals and on the way the pesticide is formu-The following table shows the oral LD50 of some lated. Note: The ones marked with an asterisk common household and garden chemicals. The (*) are considered to be acceptable for use in lower the LD50, the more toxic the substance. organic gardens. Note the range for some chemicals, which


Acute Oral LD50 (mg/kg Body Weight)



Copper sulfate

11 (human) to 472 (rats)



Chlorpyrifos (Dursban)

96to 272

Phosmet (Imidan)



150 (dogs) to 2,500 (guinea pigs)




200 to 2,600

Carbaryl (Sevin)





2,500 to 4,000

Table salt


*Azadirachtin (neem)


Glyphosate (Roundup)


* Bacillus thuringiensis


*Insecticidal soap




Sources: The Extension Toxicology Network (EXTOXNET) and Ball Pest & Disease Manual, by Charles C. Powell and Richard K. Lindquist (Ball Publishing).

Most pesticide injuries occur during mixing, while you're preparing to spray. Put on your gear before you get started. Always mix and pour chemicals, including organic pesticides, in a well-ventilated area where accidental spillage won't contaminate or damage food or personal property. Even something as nontoxic as diatomaceous earth can irritate your lungs, and spilled oil can ruin your clothes. Following are other points to keep in mind:


  • Don't use your kitchen measuring cups and spoons; buy a separate set for garden use.
  • Clear all toys and other stuff out of the area you plan to spray, including the areas where the spray may drift (check the wind direction).
  • Don't allow pets or other people into the area while you're spraying, and keep them out for the duration recommended on the product label.

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