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University of Illinois Extension

Handling Pesticide Containers After a Storm

December 10, 2013

Pesticides can pose risks in areas affected by high winds such as tornadoes when homes, garages and outbuildings are destroyed, according to the University of Illinois Pesticides Safety Education Program (PSEP) team. Thoughts of pesticide contamination may not be in the forefront of thoughts, but potential injury can exist.

Most homeowner pesticides aren't as toxic as commercial agriculture products. Still, the potential for injury is there. Wind and rain can significantly dilute products, but also can cause some problems especially with herbicide drift.

A bigger problem occurs with broken pesticide containers and pooling products after a natural disaster. The goal should be to clean up the spill or damage as soon as possible, but also as safely as possible.

Products in broken, torn, or ripped containers should be considered contaminated and be prepared for disposal. If the container is undamaged, it should be safe for use.

The following are some steps the PSEP team recommends to take when dealing with storm-damaged pesticides including broken containers and spills.

  1. Wear proper protective clothing. Long-sleeved shirts and long pants, hats, shoes and socks are a must. Also, wear chemically-resistant gloves. Rubber boots may be practical as well. Leather and cotton gloves will absorb pesticides, keeping the pesticide in contact with the skin.

Chemically resistant gloves will be made of rubber, nitrile, TyVek or a heavy plastic.

Wash gloves often in hot soapy water. Disposable gloves aren't meant to be washed.

Once finished, wash clothing in hot soapy water by themselves, and line-dry if possible.

  1. Scout out the area. Get a handle on what products are present and problematic.
  1. For broken containers with pesticides still inside, try to transfer the liquids to another similar container carefully. Watch out for jagged pieces of plastic or glass that might cut.

Do not mix different products together for disposal. Keep each product separate.

Clearly mark the new container as hazardous materials and disposed of properly. Many tornado-ravaged communities will have a hazardous waste site.

The original packaging can be wrapped in several layers of newspapers and further smashed, then placed in a heavy duty garbage bag for disposal at a landfill. Do not burn pesticide containers.

  1. Torn bags of pesticides can be double bagged for storage if no contamination with other pesticide products has occurred. If products have mixed, it's best to dispose of them in like manner to liquid products.
  1. For pesticide spills, place absorbent material over the product. Absorbent material includes cotton batting, kitty litter, sawdust, or sweeping material. Soil, sand and peat moss can be used if none of the preceding is available. Old rags and newspapers can be used as a last resort.

Allow the product to be absorbed by the materials. Once absorbed, use a shovel or broom to place the materials in containers such as drums, tubs or heavy-duty garbage bags. Clearly mark the containers as containing spilled pesticides and dispose of at the hazardous waste collection site.

Do NOT distribute the spilled pesticide in the garden, yard, woods, ditch or other areas. This can cause serious environmental problems.

For more information on pesticide safety, visit https://webs.extension.uiuc.edu/psep/ .

Source: David Robson, Extension Specialist, Pesticide Safety Education Program, and Extension Horticulturist,drobson@illinois.edu, 217-244-5724

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