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Top Pesticide Blunders by Consumers Underscore Importance of Following Label Instructions

Media Contact: Lea Brooks
916-445-3974 |
May 31, 2012 (12-13)

SACRAMENTO – In San Diego County in March 2011, three teenagers watched YouTube videos that prompted them to combine pool chlorine tablets with vinegar, baking soda and hydrogen peroxide in plastic bottles to cause explosions.

One boy threw some of the bottles onto rocks and breathed the toxic gas formed by mixing the chemicals. After experiencing shortness of breath, the teen called his mother, who called 911. Fire department paramedics responded and treated the boy. The Sheriff’s Department’s bomb squad vented the remaining bottles and environmental health officials neutralized the chemicals.

This incident is one of the California Department of Pesticide Regulation’s (DPR) “Top Pesticide Blunders by Consumers” released today. They remind consumers to follow the label instructions of household cleaning and gardening products to avoid illness and injury.

"I cannot emphasize enough the importance of following the label instructions of all pesticide products, including those consumers use to kill ants, spiders, weeds and other pests in and around their homes," DPR Director Brian R. Leahy said. "Selecting a product that specifically targets the pest or a method that poses less risk will reduce your chances of getting sick or hurt."

Leahy also recommended that consumers consider an integrated pest management approach to reducing or eliminating the need for pesticides. This strategy includes removing crumbs and other food sources, fixing leaky plumbing, and sealing cracks and crevices with caulk so pests can’t get into the home.

He suggested these extra precautions to prevent pesticide exposure in and around the home:

  • Store pesticides properly to keep them away from children and adults who are unable to recognize pesticide containers.
  • Keep pesticides in their original containers so no one mistakes them for food or drink. Never put pesticides in food or drink containers.
  • Do not mix bleach with ammonia or other cleansers because the combination can form a toxic gas.

The San Diego County incident and blunders below in alphabetical order by county were drawn from 2011 illnesses and injuries reported to DPR by the California Poison Control System. State privacy law protects the identities of the individuals, who all sought medical treatment.

  • In Contra Costa County, a woman hurried to address an infestation of fleas and lice while she had dogs and children out of the home. She was steam cleaning the carpet with dog flea shampoo while she had lice shampoo on her own head when something got in her eye. She didn’t know whether the eye irritant was the dog shampoo (a registered pesticide) or the lice shampoo (a pharmaceutical, outside DPR jurisdiction).
  • In Kern County, a man saturated soil with insecticide before planting marijuana in his yard. He sprayed the soil around the plants as they grew. The man became nauseated after smoking his homegrown marijuana.

    No pesticides are registered for use on marijuana by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency because marijuana is considered an illegal crop by the federal government. In California, a pesticide cannot be registered unless it is registered by U.S. EPA. As a result, no analysis has been done by the state or federal governments to determine potential health and environmental risks posed by pesticide applications on marijuana.
  • In Los Angeles County, a 4-year-old boy ate an unknown amount of roach gel mixed with peanut butter. That afternoon, he began vomiting and was found to have a low-grade fever.
  • In Yolo County, a woman set off a fogger and left her apartment, but immediately re-entered to turn off the smoke alarm. The fogger sprayed her in the face, and she developed burning and watery eyes, runny nose, coughing, shortness of breath and sensation of throat swelling. She re-entered again to get her car keys, which exacerbated the symptoms.

    Safety precautions for foggers are posted on DPR’s website in English and in Spanish. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has several videos about how to reduce potential hazards associated with foggers.

For more information about home and garden pesticide safety, see DPR consumer fact sheets.

One of five departments and boards within the California Environmental Protection Agency, DPR regulates the registration, sale and use of pesticides and fosters reduced-risk pest management to protect people and the environment. More information about DPR is posted at