Hermiston Farm Fair

Staff photo by Kathy Aney

Participants wander through exhibits Wednesday during the Hermiston Farm Fair at the Eastern Oregon Trade & Event Center.

Farmers are no strangers to using pesticides, but it never hurts to stop and think about what can happen if they’re not used properly.

The Friday sessions of the Hermiston Farm Fair focused on disease prevention and pest control in crops. OSU Professor of Agronomy Ruijun (Ray) Qin and extension agronomist Darrin Walenta talked to a room full of growers about the use of commercial pesticides, and how to avoid safety hazards when using them.

The presentation covered self-protection, ways to reduce contamination to surrounding areas, and how action at the federal court level is currently affecting growers’ use of certain products.

Kaci Buhl, a statewide pesticide safety educator for OSU extension, mentioned the use of chlorpyrifos, an insecticide used to control pests like termites, mosquitos and roundworms. The use of that product is currently being debated at the federal level.

The Obama administration had recommended a ban on the use of chlorpyrifos, under grounds that the product had potentially caused damage to children and farm workers exposed to it. The Trump administration rejected that ban in early 2017.

In August, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ordered the EPA to ban the use of the product.

A representative for Corteva, a company that makes chlorpyrifos, was at the presentation, and said that the EPA counter-sued, stating that the courts were not basing their ruling on scientific research. He said that the EPA determined that the benefits of chlorpyrifos far outweigh the risks.

“We foresee this going to the U.S. Supreme Court,” he said. “But in the meantime, nothing will change.”

Though federal regulations have affected growers’ ability to use certain products, the presentation focused more on daily safety precautions.

“What section of a label do you read first?” Walenta asked. “The directions? Cautionary statement?”

He noted that in reading the cautionary statements first, a user can learn abut the specific effects a pesticide will have on humans and animals, as well as the routes of entry that are most harmful — inhalation, oral ingestion, or dermal contact. Those will be listed in order as well. If a pesticide is most toxic when ingested orally, that will be listed first.

The labels also list the impact a chemical can have on certain animal species.

For example, a label may state that a chemical shouldn’t be applied when bees are likely to be in the area, and growers are required to follow those instructions.

“That’s an enforceable statement,” Walenta said.

Qin talked about reducing exposure to pesticides, wearing personal protective equipment, and properly disposing of contaminated clothing and items.

They talked about the different types of reactions to toxic products — acute, chronic, and allergic.

The point at which a user will be at the highest risk of exposure is when they’re mixing a product.

“Dry products always have powder that gets airborne,” said Walenta. “That’s a form of chronic exposure that labels are not required to warn about.”

Though the presentation was focused on products that only commercial growers use, they offered online resources that homeowners can use to learn about pesticide products and their toxicity. Agrian is an online database that, along with other services, allows users to look up the labels of different products. The National Pesticide Information Center, or NPIC, has breakdowns of different products, as well as general information for the public about pesticides.

Based on testing, pesticides are classified into different toxicity categories, or “signal words.”

The classification looks at how a certain amount of the pesticide affects a user in five different routes of exposure, including oral, inhalation, dermal and eye irritation.

A classification of “Caution” means the pesticide is slightly toxic, but risk is fairly low. A “Warning” rating means the pesticide is moderately toxic, and a “Danger” rating means the product is highly toxic by at least one route of exposure.

“Part of the reason we’re here is we really need to think about personal protective equipment,” Walenta said, adding that it’s important not to cut corners with safety. “Shortcuts can lead to chronic exposure.”

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