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February 26, 2014
Preventing pesticide drift

As farmers gear up for spring planting, they have numerous safety issues to consider. One perennial concern is pesticide drift. When pesticides are applied to a field, it’s always possible they could “drift” into neighboring areas, where workers and residents can be exposed.

Use this guide to minimize the possibility that your pesticides will wander where they’re not wanted.

Soil fumigation

Drift can occur during soil fumigation when highly volatile fumigation pesticides, which are applied as liquids, evaporate after application. Prevent drift by:

  • Choosing appropriate tarps. Cover fumigated soil with tarps that are impermeable to the pesticide being used. For a list of appropriate tarps to use with different fumigants, check the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) list.
  • Establishing buffer zones. These zones restrict entry for a period of time after fumigation and extend from the edge of the treated field in all directions. Find the appropriate buffer zone distance on the look-up table listed on the fumigant’s label.
  • Inspecting tarps. Check tarps for tears before putting them down; torn tarps are a common cause of fumigant drift.
  • Leaving tarps in place for the right length of time. The EPA recommends that you leave tarps in place for at least 5 days between application and preremoval perforation of the tarp and for at least 2 hours between perforation and tarp removal.

Aerial pesticide application

Spraying pesticides into the air is almost an invitation for these chemicals to go where they’re not wanted. In fact, nearly one-quarter of drift-related poisoning cases involved aerial application of pesticides. Prevent the drift of aerially applied pesticides, and unwanted exposure to pesticide drift, by:

  • Applying with care. Applicators should not fly over residential areas, and they should turn off spray nozzles at the end of each row. Applicators must be trained in accordance with California Department of Pesticide Regulation rules so they don't create these types of problems.
  • Checking the weather. Weather conditions have a large effect on drift; wind and temperature inversions in particular can create problems. Pesticide applicators must be aware of and account for weather conditions when applying pesticides. Communicating with your neighbors. Workers in adjacent fields can be exposed if they’re present while a field is being sprayed. Coordinate pesticide application schedules with the work schedules of neighboring farmers to prevent these exposures.
  • Communicating with your neighbors. Workers in adjacent fields can be exposed if they’re present while a field is being sprayed. Coordinate pesticide application schedules with the work schedules of neighboring farmers to prevent these exposures.
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