Summary: Use these
book suggestions to build your
pesticide reference library.
Jack DeAngelis, PhDOSU Ext. Entomologist
What is a pesticide?
A pesticide is a chemical
intended to kill, or disrupt the population of, a
pest organism. Pests are unwanted insects, mites,
plants, disease causing organisms (antibiotics are
technically pesticides), and other organisms that
interfere with health or commerce. Insecticides
target insects, herbicides target plants,
fungicides target disease-causing fungi.
The definition of what is, or is not, a
pesticide has nothing to do with whether or not
the chemical is "organic" or natural. For example
nicotine, a natural component of the tobacco
plant, has been used as a powerful insecticide for
more than a hundred years. Sulfur is an effective
miticide (a pesticide that targets mites) and
sodium borate, which is mined as "borax", is an
effective insecticide. Pyrethrum from the dried
flowers of certain species of chrysanthemum has
been used as an "insect powder" for hundreds of
Synthetic insecticides have been around
since shortly after World War II but until the
mid-1990s there were only four categories:
Organochlorine insecticides like
aldrin, heptachlor, chlordane and DDT were
developed to combat mosquitoes and lice and were
later widely used, and mis-used, for other pests.
Organophosphate insecticides like
dimethoate, acephate (Orthene) and chlorpyrifos
(Dursban) are far more acutely toxic to vertebrate
animals but much less persistent in the
environment than organochlorines.
Carbamates like carbaryl (Sevin),
aldicarb (Temik) and bendiocarb are somewhate
safer because they don't induce irreversible
metabolic changes in humans.
Pyrethroid insecticides like
permethrin, cyfluthrin (Tempo) and bifenthrin
(Talstar) are effective at lower application rates
and tend to be very stable in sunlight compared to
In the last ten years there has been rapid
development of new classes of insecticides with an
emphasis on lower vertebrate toxicity and more
targeted applications. Newer materials also tend to
be much higher cost which has the benefit of
reducing overall use.
In 1962 Rachel Carson published Silent
Spring (above), a warning about the effects
that the widespread use of highly persistent
pesticides were having on the environment and
wildlife. The book ignited a debate that eventually
lead to the establishment of the Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) in the US during the early
1970s. Government oversight of pesticide use through
label laws has directly lead to safer and less
environmentally damaging pesticides.