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A Method to Measure the Environmental Impact of Pesticide

Introduction and Background

For several years, increased attention has been focused on integrated pest management (IPM) programs and alternative methods of pest control to reduce pesticide use in agricultural systems because of food safety issues, groundwater contamination, and increased environmental awareness. By definition, IPM is a pest management strategy that uses a combination of methods (sampling, thresholds, forecasts, biological and cultural controls, etc.) to manage pests without solely relying on chemical pesticides to produce a safe, economic crop. If, however, no other control measure is effective in preventing pest damage, a chemical pesticide is recommended. In past IPM programs, pesticides were generally chosen based on their efficacy or cost rather than on their potential environmental impact. Although some growers and pest management practitioners did take into account the effect of the pesticides on the applicator or beneficial natural enemies such as predatory mites when making pesticide recommendations, no formal method was available to assist them in making environmentally based pesticide choices. Because there is no easy method to assess pesticide impacts, each individual had to rely primarily on their own judgment to make these decisions. Some growers (organically approved growers) felt that only natural pesticides should be used in agricultural production systems because they are naturally occurring and are perceived to be less harmful to the environment. Other growers felt that any pesticide registered by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) and used according to the label must be environmentally safe. In addition, IPM programs throughout the country use various methods (number of sprays, the amount of active ingredient or formulated product used per acre, dosage equivalents, etc.) to quantify pesticide use and environmental impact to compare different pest management strategies or programs. None of these methods estimates the environmental impact of specific pesticides.

Because of the EPA pesticide registration process, there is a wealth of toxicological and environmental impact data for most pesticides that are commonly used in agricultural systems. However, these data are not readily available or organized in a manner that is usable to the IPM practitioner. Therefore, the purpose of this bulletin is to organize the published environmental impact information of pesticides into a usable form to help growers and other IPM practitioners make more environmentally sound pesticide choices. This bulletin presents a method to calculate the environmental impact of most common fruit and vegetable pesticides (insecticides, acaricides, fungicides and herbicides) used in commercial agriculture. The values obtained from these calculations can be used to compare different pesticides and pest management programs to ultimately determine which program or pesticide is likely to have the lower environmental impact.