With summer on the horizon, the excitement of tending to your garden or nurturing crops grows stronger. Though unwelcome pests are poised to make an appearance, pesticides stand ready as your essential companions in preserving the well-being of your plants.
Amid this blooming season, let’s not forget that safety remains our guiding star. Although the term “pesticide” may evoke concerns about potential health risks, it is equally important to acknowledge the benefits these products bring to our homes and gardens. Therefore, it is imperative to take the necessary precautions for safe usage.
Learning from past mistakes
Vusumuzi Sibiya, a crop farmer from Bronkhorstspruit, Gauteng who predominantly uses pesticides to control pests at home and in the field, recalls a time when it made him unwell. Consequently, he learned always to read the labels to ensure he uses them as recommended.
“I used to experience dizziness and skin irritation when using pesticides,” he tells Health For Mzansi. “However, I no longer suffer from any symptoms of illness because I now understand the importance of not only using them but also reading the labels, avoiding contact with the chemicals, and wearing personal protective equipment. I ensure I cover my body, wear a mask and gloves, and wash the clothes I use after each application.”
Mpumalanga vegetable farmer Tebogo Ntseoane notes that he used to feel slight weakness and dizziness when using pesticides to control and prevent pests without wearing a mask. Since adopting safety precautions, he has not experienced any health-related symptoms.
“I also spray in a direction that prevents the wind from carrying particles towards me while maintaining a safe distance, and this has eliminated any health issues for me,” he explains.
Dr Gerhard Verdoorn, the operations and stewardship manager at CropLife SA, likens unsafe pesticide usage to handing a kitchen knife to a child, potentially posing a significant risk, whereas keeping it in the drawer is safer. He emphasises the importance of minimising health risks associated with pesticide use by reading labels and adhering to all specified precautions.
Always follow the precautions
“As an organic chemist, there are no inherently harmful chemicals on the market; they all come with prescribed directions for use, just like medicine,” Verdoorn explains.
“Most people who experience illness or risks from pesticides do so because they neglect to follow the labels and precautions, which can also endanger children and pets. This then transforms a hazard into a risk for people. However, by meticulously adhering to the labels and precautionary principles, the risk is effectively mitigated.
“One fundamental safety principle is that when pesticides are not in use, they should be securely locked away, out of the reach of children and pets. People must always read the label and diligently follow all precautionary instructions to minimise risks completely.”
According to Dr Tevarus Naicker, a medical doctor based in Cape Town, the health risk associated with working with pesticides is that they can lead to poisoning, which can occur through inhalation, ingestion, or skin absorption. However, this risk is minimal when you read labels and conduct research when selecting pesticides.
The doctor has spoken
Naicker also highlights warning signs to watch out for if you have been exposed to pesticides or work in a high-risk environment:
- headaches and dizziness,
- nausea and vomiting,
- stomach cramps and diarrhoea,
- tears or blurred vision,
- hypersalivation (increased secretions),
- breathing difficulties,
- heart palpitations,
- weakness, and
Naicker recommends seeking medical attention as soon as possible when exposed to such hazards.
While pesticides offer undeniable benefits, it is crucial to be aware of safe usage, as potential health risks can be associated with them if precautions are not taken responsibly.
“It is important to use protective gear when handling pesticides (gloves, masks, and protective clothing). Wash your hands with soap and water after using pesticides, and ensure that the clothing used is washed as well to prevent contamination of other people,” says Naicker.
Read the labels
“When opening pesticides, make sure to do so on a stable surface to avoid spillage. Young children are often curious and may become exposed to pesticides accidentally, so ensure that all chemicals are stored securely and not left unattended.
“Make sure to read the safety label before using a pesticide. Some pesticides may be safe for humans but lethal to animals, so if you have pets at home, you must make sure they are not accidentally exposed. If you are unsure about a pesticide, you can contact the Poison Information Helpline on 0861 555 777,” Naicker advises.
You can also contact the Griffon Poison Information Centre at 082 4468946.
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