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Teaching How to Use Pesticides Safely

More than 12,000 pesticides are registered for use in Pennsylvania. Used properly, these products are an effective tool to help manage weeds, insects, vertebrates, and disease-causing organisms.
Amy Bradford, assistant vice president, PennAg Industries Association Agronomic Products Council

Amy Bradford, assistant vice president, PennAg Industries Association Agronomic Products Council

"The best part of working with Penn State's Pesticide Education Program is that it develops information that I can deliver to the agricultural industry, and the program responds to issues that I bring from producers, pesticide applicators, manufacturers, and vendors. The program not only plays a vital role in training and certifying applicators and industry professionals, but it teaches consumers about the proper use of pesticides."

The high quality and abundance of food we enjoy are direct results of the safe and proper use of pesticides. If misused, however, pesticides are potentially harmful.

With about 35,000 certified pesticide applicators and thousands of consumer pesticide users in the state, the need for pesticide safety education is acute. The Pesticide Education Program in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences strives to educate all certified pesticide applicators and consumers across the Commonwealth about the safe, proper, and legal use of pesticides and pest management alternatives. The program promotes responsible decision making, with an eye toward protecting pesticide users, public health, plant and animal health, and the environment.

The Payoff

Applicator certification and training

Applicator certification and training. Every year, the Penn State Pesticide Education Program provides educational materials and support to certify more than 4,000 new pesticide applicators, who must pass written exams developed cooperatively with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. These exams cover basic pest management, pesticide safety, and detailed material pertaining to the applicator's area of specialization. As part of training and preparing potential applicators for exams, the Penn State Pesticide Education Program develops and reviews educational materials including the Pesticide Education Manual, fact sheets, and presentations that address various pesticide safety issues.

Continuing to educate applicators. In order to remain current on pesticide issues and to maintain their certification, approximately 24,000 applicators attend recertification courses annually. Providing general pesticide safety education is a major priority of the Penn State Pesticide Education Program. Recently, the program has focused on helping applicators understand the provisions of the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA), which substantially changed the way pesticides are regulated to further reduce potential pesticide exposures. As a result of FQPA decisions, new legal and label requirements affected many pesticides, even those that have been on the market for a long time.

Training the trainers

Because educating this wide and diverse audience of potential pesticide users would be impossible without assistance, the Penn State Pesticide Education Program offers train-the-trainer programs. These programs educate master gardeners, extension educators, and other instructors in general science and agricultural science. For example, in the past few years, workshops were conducted for approximately 500 trainers, who then can reach thousands more people with valuable pesticide safety information.

Diversifying outreach education

Diversifying outreach education. The Penn State Pesticide Education Program's website is an important tool that provides updated information in a timely and efficient way for applicators, educators, and consumers. Applicators can use the Recertification Meeting Finder to look up meetings in their region. This information also can be accessed via a toll-free phone number or a listing that can be faxed. Recently, the Penn State Pesticide Education Program worked cooperatively with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture to provide applicators with online access to the number of recertification credits they have acquired, how many they need to renew their certification, and the date on which their credits are due. The Penn State Pesticide Education Program also offers pre-exam and recertification training to swimming pool applicators using distance education technology. On average, 600 applicators are trained each year.

Profiling Pennsylvania pest management

A major component of the Penn State Pesticide Education Program, the Pest Management Information Center, provides actual field-use data on pest-management practices to growers and those who make regulatory decisions. Collection of pesticide-use data helps to ensure that FQPA decisions are based on sound science and actual field practice rather than worst-case assumptions.

Taking a bite out of West Nile

When West Nile virus became a significant pest-management issue, the Penn State Pesticide Education Program took a proactive role in educating the public about the dangers of the virus and the importance of controlling the mosquitoes that spread it. In April 2000, with the leadership of the Penn State Pesticide Education Program, the College of Agricultural Sciences formed a West Nile Virus Coordinating Committee. This committee developed publications and presentations, worked with state agencies, and established contacts outside the University. The Penn State Pesticide Education Program continues to update these materials.

Pesticide safety for everyone

The Penn State Pesticide Education Program annually provides outreach education to more than 50,000 pesticide consumers by staffing displays at various public venues. In addition, more than 30,000 copies of the recently developed consumer pesticide safety fact sheet series were distributed in 2004. The Penn State Pesticide Education Program also has found creative ways to reach young people. Innovative educational materials aimed at children -- including a computer-based game featuring the cartoon character D.B. Pest -- teach concepts such as integrated pest management, alternatives to pesticide use, and the safe use of pesticides when necessary. The program has reached thousands of youths across Pennsylvania by working with 4-H clubs, schools, and educators to deliver thousands of educational lessons and publications.

Recognized for excellence

The Penn State Pesticide Education Program recently was one of only four from across the country to be recognized as a model program by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The program was cited for its outreach initiatives and for making "great strides in addressing urban concerns about pesticide issues."

For more information, call Penn State's Pesticide Education Program at 814-863-0263.