Most growers know that pesticides should be locked up in storage away from fertilizer, seed, food and feed to avoid contamination. But even with safe storage, pesticides can be volatile

Growers should consider researching and implementing the Zero Pesticide Storage concept, which was developed as part of the Safe Farm Program at Iowa State University in Ames by Wendy Wintersteen, extension entomologist, and extension communication managers Laura Miller and Marcia Brink. It is as simple as it sounds: Eliminate pesticide storage issues by not keeping pesticides in long-term storage.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Ag Safety Database said that although all farmers won’t be able to achieve Zero Pesticide Storage immediately, they should be able to reach the goal in two to three years with a few new management strategies, including prioritizing pesticides for disposal, transporting pesticides safely to a toxic waste cleanup site and minimizing storage.

“Don’t buy what you’re not going to use,” said Fred Fishel, associate professor of agronomy and pesticide information officer for the department of agronomy at the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences in Gainesville. “Some people will stockpile pesticide if they get a bargain, but that’s not recommended.”

If Zero Pesticide Storage isn’t an option for you yet, make sure your pesticides are stored properly, the storage structure is secure and meets suggested specifications, and that you’re educated on the latest pesticide storage regulations.

Common storage issues

When it comes to improper pesticide storage, there are numerous mistakes that can lead to consequences ranging from mild to severe. But it appears that as more growers gain a better education on the topic, fewer issues pop up.

“We don’t get a whole lot of storage violations,” said Craig Bryant, environmental manager for the pesticide compliance office of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Bureau of Compliance Monitoring in Tallahassee.

Bryant said that out of 700 inspections in fiscal 2006 (which ended June 30), the bureau handed out 16 pesticide storage and handling violations.

The bureau performs routine inspections of pesticide manufacturers, distributors and retailers to make sure restricted-use pesticides are sold to licensed applicators and that storage and labeling standards are followed.

The bureau’s main function is licensing applicators for restricted-use pesticides, but the group also educates and trains end-users and enforces pesticide regulations.

“The laws written are bound by pesticide labels,” Bryant said. “Some pesticides are not supposed to be kept with feed, seed and fertilizer. Some labels say to separate fungicides, herbicides and insecticides.”

Fishel said the most common violation is lack of proper labeling, which makes a container’s contents—hazardous or not—indeterminable.

But Bryant said the majority of mistakes usually are minor.

“Disposal and storage go hand-in-hand,” he said. “We’ve run into people storing nuts and bolts in cut-in-half pesticide containers. And people putting used motor oil in 2-gallon containers or using big drums as trash cans.” Empty pesticide containers are supposed to be triple-rinsed and punctured to prevent reuse, he said.

Fishel said he’s seen ruptured and bulging containers in storage facilities. He also has seen a lot of disorder in the facilities, which is strongly discouraged.
“Mixing pesticides—dry, liquid, on the floor, old and new, and missing dates—can lead to problems,” Fishel said.
Dry pesticide products should be stored off the ground and away from moisture, he recommends. When dry pesticides absorb water, it’s called tombstoning because the clumping makes it hard like a tombstone.

In general, preventing water damage is important in pesticide storage.

“Water or excess moisture can cause metal containers to rust, paper and cardboard containers to split and crumble, pesticide labeling to peel, smear, run or otherwise become unreadable, slow-release products to release their pesticide and pesticide to move away from the storage site,” Fishel said.

Remember that pesticide effectiveness and usability is influenced by storage temperature, he added.

The labels of most liquid pesticides contain specific information on adequate storage temperatures, which generally range from 40-100 F, he said.

“For most of Florida, freezing is not a normal concern with pesticide storage, but extreme heat is a factor for the entire state,” Fishel said. “High temperatures can cause plastic containers to melt and glass to explode. The liquid pesticide contents in metal drums can cause expansion and eventual rupturing.”

Dry pesticides aren’t usually affected by temperature extremes, Fishel said.

Storing personal protective equipment close to pesticides is another violation Bryant has seen. The bureau recommends storing personal protective equipment outside the pesticide storage facility in a clothing and equipment locker near the door. Also make sure the PPE inventory matches the most rigorously labeled pesticide kept in the facility.

If there are violations when the bureau visits a site, a representative will revisit in six months to a year to make sure appropriate changes have been made, he said. The office presents warning letters for first offenses—and eventually fines—for violations it inspects.

Safe and secure

Safety and security at storage facilities took on extra importance following the Oklahoma City bombing and Sept. 11.

“In Oklahoma City, fertilizer was used for the bomb,” Fishel said. “We tell pesticide distributors to make sure to check out credentials and ask buyers why and what they’re going to use the pesticide for.”

At Desert Depot, a 270,000-square-foot third-party warehouse in Yuma, Ariz., 85 percent of the inventory is pesticide. With that much product, security is tight.

“We check documentation so we know who’s bringing it in and who’s picking it up,” said Caleb Stewart, assistant manager. “We ask for two forms of ID from each driver that we don’t know.”
Bryant said he’s seen multiple storage facilities kept in a nonsecure manner. He said security starts with placarding the pesticide building with signs and keeping it locked.

The IFAS Web site recommends posting on each exterior wall a sign that says, “Pesticide Storage–Keep Out.” Also post a “No Smoking” sign adjacent to the door and one on the door reading “Authorized Users Only.”

“Keep track of your inventory and where you place it.” Bryant said. “We recommend keeping pesticide application equipment in a secure area as well.”

Make sure to keep the pesticide storage facility accessible and safe for employees. Provide air ex-change through the facility with an exhaust fan, the IFAS site said.

Install suitable shelving that combines durability, strength and design based on work height, storage dimension, clearance interval and toe space.

Adequate interior and exterior lighting allows pesticide storage facility users light to see clearly what they’re doing.

Other facility features to consider include location, fire control, spill cleanup equipment, water supply, a locking door, and gated fencing.

Disposal help

In response to the problem of unusable pesticide products in Florida—which pose an exposure threat to employees and the possibility of environmental damage—the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services teamed with IFAS and Florida agricultural marketing and pesticide user-groups to implement Operation Cleansweep.

The program has been collecting and disposing of canceled, suspended and unusable pesticides free-of-charge for about six years now, said Kim Hainge, referral coordinator for the bureau.

“Before the program existed, farmers would hear an inspector was coming and they’d dump their pesticides,” Hainge said. “Now after six years of the program, there’s less and less to pick up every year. We’ve got most of the older pesticides that were stockpiled.” CVM

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