What are pesticides and are they safe?

Pesticides are substances that are used to control pests (such as insects, weeds, or mold). A pesticide may be a chemical, natural plant or animal product, or other substance (for example, a bacteria) that is used to control the growth of the pest or kill the pest. Many chemicals or pesticides pose some degree of risk to the user and the environment, even “organic or natural” pesticides. All pesticides are evaluated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to determine the potential for harm before they are registered for use. The pesticide label on each product provides health risk information to the user and ways to protect the user and the environment from harm (injury or adverse effects). Label directions include a lot of information such as how much can be used (rate) and where the product can be used (site of application).

Certain pesticide applicators (farmers, pesticide dealer staff, building maintenance, and many others) receive special training in order to become certified applicators. Only certified applicators may purchase and apply certain pesticides with restricted uses. Situations that present greater risks are when pesticides are applied to or move (drift) into sites that are not intended to be treated which would be a non-labeled site; outdoor pesticides are illegally applied indoors; pesticides are applied in excess of their application rates; and restricted use pesticides are applied by unlicensed/untrained applicators.

The MDA has the legal authority to investigate complaints of fertilizer or pesticide violations.

The National Pesticide Information Center is an additional resource. Questions can be answered by calling 1-800-858-7378 (10 am-2 pm Central Time, Monday-Friday) or by visiting their website.

How do I know what pesticides are applied? where? and when?

The most common pesticide products applied are herbicides (weed control) in both agricultural and urban areas. Insecticides (insect/mite control) and fungicides (fungus control) are also applied in agricultural areas, but to a lesser amount (on a pound for pound basis). Herbicides can be applied with a fertilizer commonly found in lawn products (referred to as weed/feed products) either as a liquid or in dry granules. In urban areas, if it’s May or June, weed/feed product applications may begin and occur thereafter every 4-6 weeks through September.

For agricultural areas, if it’s June, the product being applied is likely glyphosate (sometimes referred to as Roundup) on soybeans and/or corn. If it’s July or August and the crop being treated is soybeans, the product may be a combination of glyphosate and an insecticide or just an insecticide to control a relatively small pale yellow insect, soybean aphid, which forms colonies at an exponential growth rate and invades soybeans.

Insecticides used to control soybean aphid are applied either by ground or by air. Air applications made by small aircraft or helicopters are most often made in agricultural areas between June and September. Insecticides and fungicides are usually applied in a liquid.

Much like insecticides, fungicides applied to control a multitude of pests are also made by air, again, most often in agricultural areas. Depending on the pest population and the weather, fungicides may be applied as often as weekly in potatoes, sugar beets (west and northwest Minnesota), corn, or soybeans with the most frequent applications occurring between mid-July through August.

Biological pesticides (organisms that are antagonistic to the pest) are often applied to mosquito nymphs or to control forest tent caterpillars (in the moth family) by aircraft flying much lower than usual in effort to strategically place the pesticide for maximum effectiveness. To protect trees most vulnerable to tent caterpillars and defoliation, most of these applications are made in May located in north and west central Minnesota or Minnesota’s lake country in and among lake property, lakes, and communities. 

What are MDA's role and responsibilities?

The MDA is the lead state agency for the regulation of pesticides and fertilizer. The MDA enforces Minnesota’s Pesticide and Fertilizer Laws (Minnesota Statutes Chapters 18B, 18C, and 18D (2016)). Enforcement responsibilities include the investigation of fertilizer and pesticide use, storage, handling, distribution, and disposal. The MDA initiates hundreds of routine inspections annually for all manner of business to check for compliance with these laws.

Law enforcement investigations are commenced when the MDA reasonably believes that individuals or companies have violated Minnesota law. The MDA is not able to investigate allegations of law violations without being given sufficient information. All complaints are required to be submitted in writing to the MDA and must state what violations of law are being alleged. Visit Pesticide and Fertilizer Misuse Complaint Form for more information.

Once violations are proven, enforcement actions are initiated by the MDA and include Field ORDERs, Notices of Violation (NOV), and the issuance of financial penalties (Notice of Intent to Sue). In rare cases, the MDA may initiate proceedings to revoke or suspend company or applicator licenses.