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Pesticides and Public Health

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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Current as of July 7, 2008

There are a variety of regulatory programs and information sources related to protecting public health.  This page focuses on public health problems caused by pests and the role that preventive measures and pesticides may play in protecting people from these health problems. 

Why be concerned: Pests such as insects, rodents, and microbes can cause and spread a variety of diseases that pose a serious risk to public health.

What YOU can do: There are a variety of ways that you can control pests and the risks they may pose.  Use the links below to learn more about pests, public health, pesticides, and actions you can take to safely control pests and protect your health.

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Public Health Issues and Pests

Debilitating and deadly diseases that can be caused or spread by pests such as insects, rodents, and microbes pose a serious risk to public health.  Examples of significant public health problems that are caused by pests include:

Pests of significant health importance, which are pests that pose a widely recognized risk to significant numbers of people, are listed in Pesticide Registration Notice 2002-1 (PDF) (32 pp, 347k, about PDF).

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Safely Control Pests and Protect Your Health

EPA, along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and many pest control professionals, believes that prevention is the most effective way to control disease-carrying pests and their associated public health risks. The combination of preventive measures and reduced-risk treatment methods to reduce the reliance on, and therefore the corresponding risk from, the use of chemical pesticides is generally known as Integrated Pest Management (IPM).

Prevent Pests

Pests such as cockroaches, rodents, and mosquitoes need food, water, and shelter. Often, problems involving these pests can be solved just by removing these key items. Some actions you can take to reduce or prevent pest problems include:

Safely Use Pesticide Products

The Label Is The Law
read the label logo

In addition to preventive measures, traps, bait stations, and other pesticide products (including repellents) can be used to control some pests. These can be used with low risk of exposure to the pesticide, as long as they are kept out of the reach of children and pets and used according to label directions. For assistance choosing an appropriate pest control product, consult your local cooperative extension service office or contact the National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC). Exit EPA disclaimer

Pesticides with public health uses are intended to limit the potential for disease, but in order to be effective, they must be properly applied. By their nature, many pesticides may pose some risk to humans, animals, or the environment because they are designed to kill or otherwise adversely affect living organisms. Safely using pesticides depends on using the appropriate pesticide and using it correctly.

The pesticide label is essential to using a pesticide safely and effectively. It contains important information that must be read and followed when using a pesticide product.

Tips for Hiring a Pest Control Professional

If you have a pest issue that you are uncomfortable dealing with yourself, you may wish to hire a pest control professional.

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Regulation of Pesticides with Public Health Uses

EPA is responsible under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) for regulating pesticides with public health uses, as well as ensuring that these products do not pose unintended or unreasonable risks to humans, animals, and the environment.

Although pesticides with public health uses follow the same regulatory process as agricultural chemicals, EPA recognizes that there may be some differences, including:

EPA in Action: Pesticides, Public Health, and Disaster Relief Efforts
EPA has plans in place to advise and assist the public in case of a wide variety of potential disasters, but we also realize that our role is limited to certain areas of expertise. As an example, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, EPA worked with its regional offices and other federal and state agencies to provide technical and regulatory support to relief and cleanup efforts. EPA coordinated with the Department of Defense in preparation for the wide-scale aerial spraying of insecticides to control mosquitoes and flies, and also shared regulatory and technical information on pest control, pesticide needs, and disposal of orphaned pesticide containers. In order to facilitate the cleanup and re-occupancy of buildings, EPA provided broad guidance on disinfection, molds, and mildews. For more information on preparing and response see http://www.epa.gov/NaturalEmergencies/.

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