The Absurd Naturalist: How (not) to read a pesticide label

The author, naturally.

The author, naturally.

By Gene Twaronite

Now that it’s weed and bug season, people will be spraying chemicals into every conceivable corner of their homes and landscapes.

Not only is pest spraying a vital part of the American economy, it has become a national pastime, surpassed only by football and ranting on Facebook. But before using any pesticide in your garden, bedroom, or spouse’s cereal, it’s important to read the label. The fact that no one does so — much less knows how to read anymore — is no reason you shouldn’t. Since chemical companies use such labels primarily to avoid lawsuits, you might find some valuable information that you could use against them, such as not specifying the hazards of using the product on cereal.

The first part of the label lists ingredients, which are given freakish chemical names meant to scare you like Superglamamine-nitro-megakill-triphosphate. If you read the fine print, however, you’ll see that only 0.000000000000001 percent of the product actually contains this chemical. The rest is composed of perfectly safe, inert materials like water, used kitty litter, and a surfactant, whatever that is.

The next section lists the important phone numbers to call. There’s a product information number to call so you can complain when the product leaves purple stains on your living room carpet, and there’s a medical emergency number to call so you can complain when, in the course of using the product, you suddenly stop breathing.
Invariably, there is a warning to “keep out of reach of children.” So, if you were thinking of having the 4-year-old bratty niece that your sister dropped off for the weekend do the spraying, just forget it.

Next, there are a whole bunch of prissy precautionary statements like, “If you ingest 10 gallons of the pesticide you might experience minor gas pain, diarrhea, or complete paralysis.” Look for a signal word in upper case letters; if it says “DANGER,” this means maximum toxicity, and that’s good because you’re getting the maximum bang for your buck. There’s also stuff about environmental hazards such as killing fish or causing long-range permanent damage to the gene pool of all life on Earth, but that’s not your problem.

This section is followed by a terse statement that it’s a violation of FEDERAL LAW to use this product in a manner inconsistent with its labeling, which means you could be facing serious jail time for using it to kill that nasty foot fungus.


Illustration by 5enses.

Under “Storage and Disposal” is a warning not to store the chemical in food or beverage containers and to avoid contaminating foodstuffs, especially those you happen to be eating at the time. Recommended disposal procedures are also provided, which, at bare minimum, include triple rinsing the empty container, wrapping it in impervious, all-weather plastic, encasing it in solid concrete, placing the whole in an unmarked bag, then dropping it off at the nearest EPA-approved Extreme Hazardous Material site or, if one isn’t nearby, in your neighbor’s trashcan.

The “Directions for Safe Usage” is a long, overblown section full of stuff obvious to any normal, sensible person, such as mixing, filling tanks, or aerial sprayers, and manner of application, which you can largely ignore. Really, who doesn’t want to use pesticides safely? You do want to read the part about how much of the product to use per gallon of water. Plan on at least tripling this amount for more killing power.

You might also want to review the part that lists the kinds of pests actually targeted by the product. Don’t worry if the pests you’re trying to eliminate aren’t mentioned. Just increase the dosage. For really serious pests, like telemarketers, you may have to go full strength to achieve long-lasting control.

Lastly, there’s a section called “Re-entry Intervals.” This tells you how long to wait after application before it’s safe to enter the area again. This is a personal judgment call. Some people are more chemically sensitive than others. If you suddenly start to bleed through your facial orifices or notice a dense green cloud in the area, you may want to wait at least a few minutes.

© Gene Twaronite 2013


Gene Twaronite’s writing has appeared in numerous literary journals and magazines. He is the author of “The Family That Wasn’t,” “My Vacation in Hell,” and “Dragon Daily News.” Follow Gene at TheTwaroniteZone.Com.

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