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Plants, insects, mold, mildew, rodents, bacteria, and other organisms are a natural part of the environment. They can benefit people in many ways. But they can also be pests.

Whether used to control insects, rodents, weeds, microbes, or fungi, pesticides have important benefits. They help farmers provide an affordable and plentiful food supply. Pesticides also are used in other settings such as our homes and schools to control pests as common as cockroaches, termites, and mice.

Pesticides, however, do pose risks to human health and the environment when people do not follow directions on product labels or use products irresponsibly. For example, people might use pesticides when they are not really needed, apply too much, or apply or dispose of them in a manner that could contaminate water or harm wildlife. Even alternative or organic pesticides can have these unintended consequences if not used correctly.

Integrated Pest Management is an approach to pest control that offers a means to reduce the risk from -- and in some cases, the amount of -- chemical pesticides needed.

In many cases, there are steps pesticide users can take before they have a pest problem to prevent the need for pesticides. When a pest problem such as an insect infestation is identified, pesticide users often have a choice among different solutions to their pest problems. These pest control strategies present different levels of risk to human health and the environment.

IPM considers these risks as well as the costs of applying pesticides and other economic considerations. Originally designed for agriculture, IPM is also being used as a model for reducing the risk associated with pesticide use in other settings such as homes and schools. The IPM system consists of four steps:

  1. setting action thresholds;
  2. monitoring and identifying pests;
  3. preventing pests; and
  4. controlling pests when necessary.

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