Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA)

Regulatory agency: US EPA (federal level); state designated lead agency (in NY, that’s the DEC)

Applicable to: pesticide use (the handling, use, storage, transportation, sale, and disposal of pesticides)

License required: pesticide applicator license for the use of restricted-use pesticides, or for the commercial application of pesticides. The commercial pesticide applicator license is broken down into 28 categories and subcategories, each requiring its own certification.

Read the law:  online—

print—Title 7, U.S.C. Ch. 6

Sit up straight, because this one is complicated. FIFRA is the federal law that regulates pesticides. (A pesticide is any substance designed to prevent, destroy, repel, or mitigate any pest.) However, in most states, certain provisions of FIFRA are enforced at the state level through state pesticide regulations. We’ll talk about those later.

Because of FIFRA:

  • All pesticides, as well as each use of that pesticide, must be registered by the US EPA. The EPA must also approve the product label.
  • The EPA also classifies pesticides as either “general use” or “restricted use.” (A “restricted use” pesticide is one that, even if used as directed, might possibly harm people or the environment.)
  • A restricted use pesticide may only be used by, or under the direct supervision of, a certified applicator.
  • The amount of pesticide residue allowed on food is described.
  • There are regulations for storing and disposing of pesticides and their containers.
  • The EPA provides standards for worker safety and re-entry into a pesticide-treated area.
  • There are criminal or civil penalties for violations of FIFRA. Big ones. A commercial applicator could be fined up to $25,000 or serve one year in prison, or both. NWCOs using pesticides on the job qualify as commercial applicators.
  • States may set stricter standards but they can’t establish a more permissive one. That means that no state can allow the sale or use of a pesticide that is not permitted by federal law.

Each state has laws governing the sale, use, disposal, storage, and transportation of pesticides. Nearly every state controls the certification of pesticide applicators within its borders (in Colorado and Nebraska, federal programs handle this duty).

This is the basic federal law that regulates the use of pesticides. A pesticide is any substance designed to prevent, destroy, repel, or mitigate any pest. Each state has a cooperative agreement with the EPA to enforce some provisions of FIFRA. Because of this law, the EPA must register all pesticides before they can be sold or used. Pesticides are classified as either “general use” or “restricted use.” General use pesticides may be purchased without restriction. Restricted-use pesticides can only be used by, or under the direct supervision of, a certified applicator.

There are three critical points to keep in mind concerning FIFRA:

  1. The minute you step onto someone else’s property, the laws for the commercial application of pesticides come into play. Homeowners may apply general use pesticides such as repellents on their property, but you cannot do so unless you have a commercial pesticide applicator license. You can advise landowners about this option, but you cannot provide the service unless you also have a commercial pesticide applicator license.
  2. If there’s an EPA number on the label, you need a commercial pesticide applicator license to use it on someone else’s property.
  3. ALWAYS read and follow the pesticide label instructions. The label is the law. Any use not listed on the label is prohibited.

Avoid the “oops” (pay attention when using something such as pesticides)

FIFRA is probably the law that is most misunderstood by NWCOs. Why? Because in many cases, they don’t even realize they’re dealing with a pesticide.

Any substance that’s meant to prevent, destroy, or repel pests, or reduce their damage, is legally classified as a pesticide. It doesn’t matter if it’s a commercial product or a home remedy.

Chemical repellents are pesticides. So are fumigants, such as phosphine gas tablets or a carbon monoxide gas cartridge used to control rodents in their burrows. Poison baits, such as rodenticides, are also pesticides.

There’s an easy way to figure this all out. Read the product label. If it’s a legal pesticide, the label will include all the information you need. And—the label is the law.

Do you trust everyone? Not all manufacturers are honest or competent. They might purposefully or accidentally include a dangerous substance in the product. That’s why we rely on scientific studies and government regulatory processes. That’s how you know that the list of ingredients is complete and accurate. That’s how you know that a 2% solution is just that, not 0.2% solution in this bottle, and a 20% solution in that one.

Remember, too, that just because a pesticide is sold through a trade magazine or the internet, that doesn’t mean you can legally use it in New York State. Legal pesticides are registered by the EPA and the DEC, or are in a special category, “25b minimum risk exemptions.”

If you have any questions about pesticides, check the DEC website, or call your regional DEC office or the Compliance Section of the DEC’s Bureau of Pesticides Management at (518) 402-8781. Unless you also have a commercial pesticide applicator license, you cannot use any of the following pesticides on someone else’s property:

  1. Chemical repellents,
  2. Fumigants (such as phosphine gas tablets, or a carbon monoxide gas cartridge, used to control rodents in their burrows), and
  3. Poison baits, such as rodenticides, even those that can be bought over-the-counter.

No snake repellents. No mothballs. No bird repellents. No poisonous mouse baits. Got it? To make sure you can legally use a product in your business with only your NWCO license, check the label. If there’s an EPA registration or establishment number, you can’t use it.

There’s another risky area for NWCOs: the use of “home remedies.” In addition to various homemade concoctions, this term refers to the novel use of a household product, such as using household ammonia as a repellent to drive raccoons out of a chimney. Anecdotal evidence may suggest that a product that isn’t labeled as a pesticide is effective as a repellent, for example. Common sense may suggest its safe, especially if it contains only natural substances—say, animal urine. It may address a situation that isn’t easily solved otherwise.

Unfortunately, when a product hasn’t gone through the regulatory process, you may lack vital information about its use. What’s the recommended dose? Are the application directions precise and easily followed? Does the label list precautions that would help you minimize risks to the applicator, other people, other species, and the environment? When can you re-enter a treated area? How do you dispose of the materials afterwards?

Until the scientific studies have proven the use is safe, you can’t be sure. In certain cases, the restrictions may seem ludicrous. A raccoon is living in the home, peeing wherever it pleases, but I can’t apply a little bit of raccoon eviction fluid, a product that contains raccoon urine?

Some home remedies might qualify as an “off-label” use that’s illegal under FIFRA. Some may fall under different laws, or the legal implications may be unclear. If a product is unlabeled, or if its label doesn’t meet federal specifications, the suggested use might still be considered an off-label, and illegal use. Even giving advice about such home remedies could be considered questionable. This is murky territory. If you’re unsure, call the DEC’s Bureau of Pesticide Management at (518) 402-8788.

A strict interpretation of FIFRA would also prohibit you from using a wasp or hornet spray, even a mint-oil based spray, while on the job. But, like utility workers, NWCOs often work on ladders. If stinging insects are close enough to where you’re working that you feel threatened, most authorities wouldn’t prosecute if you sprayed a general use wasp killer just to protect yourself, for example, while doing bat exclusion. Best advice is: try to avoid stinging insects or their nests; don’t offer to control stinging insects for a customer; and don’t charge for it.

A caution for NWCOs who also have commercial pesticide applicator licenses: recently, a group of natural products received an exemption from FIFRA under category 25b.These products are federally registered. But none of them are registered in New York State yet, so you can’t use them. This may change. Check with the DEC for the current status of these products.