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The Basics

Pesticides are substances we use to control or kill pests. Pests can be weeds, insects, rodents, or bacteria — anything we don’t want to have around.

Sometimes pesticides work too well. They may not only harm the intended pest but also other plants, animals, and people. Sometimes they end up in places we don’t want them to be — for example, in our air, water, and food.

How can people be exposed to pesticides?

People can be exposed to (come in contact with) pesticides by touching, swallowing, or inhaling (breathing) them.

How can pesticides affect my health?

Symptoms of pesticide exposure can vary depending on:

  • What kind of pesticide you encounter
  • How the pesticide gets into your body
  • How much pesticide gets into your body
  • How long you’re exposed to pesticides

Exposure to pesticides can cause a range of health issues, including:

  • Damage to the nervous system
  • Damage to the endocrine system (the system that controls hormones, or the chemicals that regulate metabolism)
  • Irritation of skin and the eyes

Pesticides may be particularly harmful to young children. Repeated exposure to some pesticides over time can cause cancer.

In serious cases, exposure to pesticides can even cause death.

If you’re worried your health has been affected by pesticides, talk with your doctor at your next checkup. If you think someone has been poisoned by pesticides, call the Poison Control Center at (800) 222-1222 right away.


Did you know ?

Unwashed fruits and vegetables can have traces of pesticides on them. It is important to wash them thoroughly. This helps to remove leftover pesticides, as well as the dirt.

Learn More

Explore the links below to learn more about pesticides, including what you can do to protect yourself — and what experts are doing to keep you safe.

Read About It Read About It

Pest Control and Pesticide Safety for Consumers (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) - Describes what pesticides are and commonly used ones around the house.

Pesticides (Tox Town - National Library of Medicine) - Introduction to the health effects associated with exposure to pesticides and where they can be found in the environment.

Chemicals: Messing Around in Nature's Lab (Johns Hopkins University Ecohealth) - An introduction to pesticides, their use by farmers, and their impact on crops, soil quality, beneficial organisms, ecosystems, and our health.

Enviro-Health Links - Pesticide Exposure (National Library of Medicine) - Resources on basic information, regulations, and health problems due to exposure to pesticides.

Food and Pesticides (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) - Information on health risks posed by pesticides and food; links to pesticides and detrimental environmental risks.

Healthy Homes = Healthy Kids: Pest Control (PDF, 310.65 KB)(National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences) - PDF on pest control; topics include: pesticides, rodenticides, herbicides, and integrated pest management information.

Pesticides (Medline Plus - National Library of Medicine) - Resource links to general informaton, treatment, research, dictionaries, and various organizations concerning pesticides.

Pesticides: Health and Safety (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) - Information and FAQs on health risks posed by pesticides.

Games and Activities Games and Activities

Pest Private Eye (University of Nebraska - Lincoln, Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources) - Interactive game for students to investigate integrated pest management.

Videos Videos

A Zest for Pests...Pesticides, the Environment and You (National Library of Medicine) - David’s house is infested with micropenguins. What can he do? An animation about pesticides, where they are found, how they are used, and their effects on human health.