Pesticides Overview - EH: Minnesota Department of Health

Pesticides Overview


People often think the term pesticide means insecticide. Actually, pesticide refers to not only insecticides, but many other kinds of chemicals, like herbicides, fungicides and general disinfectants. A pesticide is any substance intended to control, destroy or repel a pest. Any living organism that causes damage or economic loss or transmits or produces disease may be a pest. Pests include animals (like insects or rodents), unwanted plants (weeds), and microorganisms (like plant diseases, viruses, or molds).

Pesticides can be natural or synthetic. Biological pesticides, for example, are being developed and used more today, as we discover new ways to manage pests and protect the environment. Many household products also contain pesticides. For example, disinfectants, cleansers, mildew removers, and ant and roach sprays are common household pesticide products. Pesticides are also used to control insects and weeds on farm fields, lawns and along roadways, in parks and other public areas, including lakes and other aquatic areas.

Health and Safety

Although pesticides can be beneficial and useful, they also can be dangerous if used carelessly or if they are not stored properly and out of the reach of children. According to data collected from the American Association of Poison Control Centers, in 2000 alone, an estimated 73,000 children were involved in common household pesticide-related poisonings or exposures in the United States. An additional 25,153 children were exposed to or poisoned by household bleach. Pesticides exposures may also result in chronic and sometimes more subtle effects and symptoms, depending on the nature and extent of the exposure, toxicity, and other factors.

The Minnesota Department of Health has several Pesticide-Related Programs and Services. As a part of these services, we collaborate closely with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, which is the lead state agency for pesticide regulation in Minnesota, and other state and federal agencies to protect public health from pesticides and pests (see links to agencies below, and Pesticide Links by topic).

Occupational exposures to pesticides also may result in illness or injury. Pesticide applicators in Minnesota are required to be trained and licensed by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. The University of Minnesota Extension Service and MDA provide education about a variety of occupational health and safety topics through manuals, seminars, and training on a regular basis, as required by Minnesota law.

Reducing Exposures to Pesticides (and Pests)

Reducing exposures to pesticides (and pests that spread disease), where possible, is good public health practice. To achieve this objective, the Minnesota Department of Health strongly supports the use of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) practices and other effective measures to prevent unnecessary exposures to pesticides and pests that pose health risks. As a part of this effort, we work closely with state and federal agencies to protect populations that may be more vulnerable to pesticide exposures, such as children (for more information, see Pesticide Use in Schools and Pesticides in the Home).

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Laws and Regulations

Because most pesticides are designed to be toxic to their target pest - and because any substance can be harmful if used improperly - pesticides are highly regulated relative to many other chemicals that are used today. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) is the lead agency responsible for regulating pesticides in Minnesota. In this role, the MDA collaborates with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Agriculture, University of Minnesota Extension Service, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Minnesota Department of Health, and others to implement federal and state pesticide laws. The Minnesota Department of Health serves primarily in a consultative role by providing the MDA with information and guidance about health risks from pesticides and insect-borne diseases. For more, see information about Minnesota Rules (Chapter 1505, Pest and Disease Control) and Minnesota Pesticide Laws (Minnesota Statutes: Chapter 17. Department of Agriculture).

The Minnesota Department of Health does promulgate some regulations related to pesticides. For example, we assure compliance with the federal Safe Drinking Water Act for public drinking water supplies; we promulgate Minnesota rules for Health Risk Limits for Groundwater and Health Risk Values for Air; we develop model notices for pesticide notification in schools as part of the Minnesota Parents' Right to Know Act; we are responsible for implementing aspects of the Minnesota Food Code; and we have responsibilities for public health emergencies, and emergency response and preparedness.


The primary responsibility for monitoring and testing for pesticides in the environment lies with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. For information, see MDA's Monitoring and Assessment Program and links to other pesticides data.


Pesticide poisonings and other related emergencies are handled by calling 911 and/or by consulting the Minnesota Poison Control System. Pesticide spills are handled by the Minnesota Duty Officer, 24 hours/day (see Pesticide Emergencies).


Minnesota Department of Agriculture
University of Minnesota Extension Service
Minnesota Pollution Control Agency
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
Metropolitan Mosquito Control District
Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry

National Pesticide Information Center
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (Pesticides)

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Updated Wednesday, January 31, 2018 at 07:56AM