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An eye-opening reminder about dangerous pesticides

Be careful around garden chemicals; important safety tips to remember

Illustration of pesticide exposure
(Illustration courtesy UC Integrated Pest Management, Pest Note 74126)

Pesticides can do more than kill unwanted insects; they can harm you, too.

Cherry Hoover found that out the hard way while cleaning out her garage. That included pesticides, miticides, insecticides, herbicides, fungicides and other chemical cures that had accumulated over several years. (Remember: The suffix “cide” means “killer.”)

Hoover is president of the Sacramento Floral Design Guild and a national award-winning rose exhibitor and arranger. She has been a dedicated gardener most of her life. She’s handled lots of garden chemicals.

But she let her guard down while packing up boxes of old chemical containers.

“I thought I was doing the right thing,” Hoover recalled. “I almost lost my sight in one eye.”

The culprit: Her cellphone. Hoover had her phone with her while she was working. “I somehow got some chemicals on my hands and then got them on my phone,” she recalled. “Then, I touched my phone (without gloves) and must have touched my face.”

Specks of the unidentified chemical managed to migrate into her eye.

“My eye was paralyzed,” said Hoover, who had to go to the emergency room. “My pupil was frozen open for nearly two weeks. My doctor wasn’t sure it would ever go back (to normal). I couldn’t sleep. It was terrible.”

Fortunately, it was a small enough amount that its effects eventually wore off and Hoover’s eye returned to normal. But her experience was a cautionary reminder: Be extremely careful and alert when handling dangerous chemicals.

“The dumbest things can get you,” said Jolene Adams, former president of the American Rose Society. For local rose clubs, Adams recently led a workshop on chemical safety, her specialty.

Dangerous chemicals can be absorbed quickly, almost instantly, through our skin, nose, mouth and eyes.

“Dermal – through your skin – is the most common,” Adams explained. “You can accidentally splash something on your skin or pick something up.”

Nose and eyes often are overlooked as pathways for chemicals to enter our bodies, Adams noted. “The moist skin inside your nose loves to attract dust. Your eyes are very sensitive.”

When handling any chemicals, wear protection, she said.

“Use chemical-resistant gloves – not vinyl, not rubber, not hospital gloves,” Adams said. “Chemicals will go right through most household or vinyl gloves. But don’t stop there. Wear chemical-resistant shoes, too; not tennis shoes and definitely not sandals.”

Adams also urged the use of safety goggles, a face shield, a hat and a respirator. Use a N-95 facemask at a minimum. She recommends use of protective clothing such as disposable paper coveralls.  Always wear long sleeves and pants when working with chemicals.

Better yet, use fewer chemicals. Wean your garden off pesticides and herbicides. Most problems can be solved by other means, such as integrated pest management, she noted.

When you do buy chemicals, buy the smallest amount – not the largest package, Adams said.

“Never bulk-buy garden chemicals,” she said. “They degrade over time. If you buy less, you have less to get rid of later.”

Never pour chemicals down the drain or mix them together, she added. Always keep them in their original containers with all the warning labels. When disposing of them, do it properly via your city or county’s waste disposal services.

And just in case, memorize the emergency number for Poison Control: 1-800-222-1222.

An excellent guide to pesticide use and safety from the UC Integrated Pest Management system can be found in Pest Note 74126 .


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For week of Dec. 10:

Take advantage of these dry but crisp conditions. It’s time to get out the rake!

* Rake leaves away from storm drains and keep gutters clear.

* Fallen leaves can be used for mulch and compost. Chop up large leaves with a couple of passes with a lawn mower.

* Prune non-flowering trees and shrubs while they’re dormant. Without their foliage, trees are easier to prune.

* Rake and remove dead leaves and stems from dormant perennials.

* Make sure to take frost precautions with new transplants and sensitive plants. Mulch, water and cover tender plants in the late afternoon to retain warmth.

* Succulent plants are at particular risk if temperatures drop below freezing. Don’t water succulents before frost; cover instead. Use cloth sheets, not plastic. Make sure to remove coverings during the day.

* Clean and sharpen garden tools before storing for the winter.

* Brighten the holidays with winter bloomers such as poinsettias, amaryllis, calendulas, Iceland poppies, pansies and primroses.

* Keep poinsettias in a sunny, warm location. Water thoroughly. After the holidays, feed your plants monthly so they'll bloom again next December.

* Just because it rained doesn't mean every plant got watered. Give a drink to plants that the rain didn't reach, such as under eaves or under evergreen trees. Also, well-watered plants hold up better to frost than thirsty plants.

* Plant garlic (December's the last chance -- the ground is getting cold!) and onions for harvest in summer.

* Bare-root season begins. Plant bare-root berries, kiwifruit, grapes, artichokes, horseradish and rhubarb. Beware of soggy soil. It can rot bare-root plants.

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