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Protecting the Environment

through pesticide safety education programs


Protecting the Environment Extension specialist Bobby Grisso (in green shirt) demonstrates proper sprayer calibration techniques to pesticide recertification class participants.

Pesticides are one of many tools in most pest management programs. If used correctly, they can improve the quality of our lives. However, if used improperly, they pose a risk to human health and the environment. In addition, misuse can result in economic losses.

Effective risk management for people and the environment involves developing the knowledge and skills necessary for safe pesticide use and handling. People who handle pesticides must be competent in both pest and pesticide management.

In Virginia, state laws and regulations require most occupational pesticide users — people who use pesticides “on the job” — to hold a certificate from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Applicator certification involves both passing a competency exam and participating in a continuing education program.

To keep this certificate current, Virginia’s more than 21,000 certified applicators must attend a recertification program on a biennial cycle, according to Patricia Hipkins, assistant coordinator of Virginia Tech Pesticide Programs (VTPP). Certification enables these people to earn a living, and do so legally and safely, says Hipkins.

Agricultural producers are one group of applicators that receive training from Virginia Cooperative Extension. In 2006, more than 3,000 certified private applicator farmers attended one of 169 recertification programs around the state. As a result, these producers may continue to purchase and use restricted-use pesticides to protect their crops.

Extension agents also organize and support workshops for Virginians other than farmers who must be certified to use pesticides for other purposes. Examples include people who work for lawn-care services, mosquito-control districts, and the Virginia Department of Transportation; businesses that provide pest management services for homes and commercial buildings; people who manage pests in parks and recreational areas; and people who fumigate stored products and many export and import commodities, including food.

“Our programs also provide information to non-certified audiences in a number of ways including websites, online training via web-based non-credit courses, Master Gardener courses, support for training agricultural workers and handlers, and for-credit courses at Virginia Tech,” Hipkins says.