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COVID creates shortage of PPE for pesticide applicators

The shortage of personal protection equipment (PPE) extends beyond medical staff and first responders. Pesticide applicators are struggling to find the equipment required by law. Sales of respirators, face shields, and N95 face masks are being directed to health care and front-line workers, creating a shortage for the agriculture industry. Any increased PPE production may come too late for most agriculture operators and applicators this spring and summer.

Homemade face coverings are suitable for the general public, but aren't adequate for applying pesticides, according to listed label requirements. So what should an applicator do if they are unable to secure the necessary equipment?

University of Illinois Extension Crop Science specialist Maria Turner encourages applicators to plan early. "Read the labels of the pesticides you intend to use for the season," she says. "If there are items you can’t secure, consider an alternate product that does not require a highest level of PPE."

Turner warns applicators not to apply pesticides without the label-required PPE. "There are currently no exemptions or relaxation of the requirements. If applicators can't find the correct level of protection, they may need to use a higher level of protective equipment, adding to higher costs and physical discomfort," she adds. Check with the University of Illinois Pesticide Safety Education team about alternative practices or products with lower PPE requirements.

Turner offers these alternative product options and practices:

SOURCEMaria Turner, Extension Specialist, University of Illinois Crop Science
WRITER: Judy Mae Bingman, Communication Marketing Manager, University of Illinois Extension