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What is a Pesticide?

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What is a pesticide?

A pesticide is any substance or mixture of substances intended for:

Though often misunderstood to refer only to insecticides, the term pesticide also applies to herbicides, fungicides, and various other substances used to control pests.

Under United States law, a pesticide is also any substance or mixture of substances intended for use as a plant regulator, defoliant, or desiccant.

What is a pest?

Pests are living organisms that occur where they are not wanted or that cause damage to crops or humans or other animals. Examples include:

Do household products contain pesticides?

Many household products are pesticides. All of these common products are considered pesticides:

What is the balance between the risks and benefits of pesticides?

By their very nature, most pesticides create some risk of harm - Pesticides can cause harm to humans, animals, or the environment because they are designed to kill or otherwise adversely affect living organisms.

At the same time, pesticides are useful to society - Pesticides can kill potential disease-causing organisms and control insects, weeds, and other pests.

Are some pesticides safer than others?

Biologically-based pesticides, such as pheromones and microbial pesticides, are becoming increasingly popular and often are safer than traditional chemical pesticides. In addition, EPA is registering reduced-risk conventional pesticides in increasing numbers.

What about pest control devices?

A pest control "device" is any instrument or contrivance (other than a firearm) intended for trapping, destroying, repelling, or mitigating any pest. A black light trap is an example of a device.

Unlike pesticides, EPA does not require devices to be registered with the Agency. Devices are subject to certain labeling, packaging, record keeping, and import/export requirements, however. In addition, the establishment where a device is produced must be registered with EPA who will assign an Establishment Number.

For more information on devices, see Pest Control Devices.

What substances are not regulated as pesticides?

The U.S. definition of pesticides is quite broad, but it does have some exclusions:

Quick Finder

About EPA's Pesticides Program
Overview of EPA's program
evaluating potential new pesticides and uses,  providing for special local needs and emergency situations,  reviewing safety of older pesticides,  registering pesticide producing establishments,  enforcing pesticide requirements

Types of Pesticides
Pesticides are often grouped according to the type of pest they control or by chemical or source.
type of pest,  chemically-related

Frequently Asked Questions
Answers to questions from the public.
generalconsumersapplicatorsfarm and agricultural workers

Fact Sheets
Search general interest and technical fact sheets.
health and safety,  regulatory actions,  specific chemicals

Information Sources
Additional information of general interest.
General informationhotlinesinformation centers,  databases

Annual Reports
Fiscal Year Reports

Pesticide News Stories
Pesticide related articles appearing in news media

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