Gary L. Smith
Extension Agricultural Engineer
University of Maryland
Everyone who works with pesticides should have a well thought out plan of action
to follow in the event of an accident. It should include basic knowledge of
first aid as it relates to pesticide poisoning and a prepared kit.
Call a Doctor or a Poison Control Center
First aid is the initial effort to help a victim while medical help is on the
way. Step one in any poisoning emergency is to call an ambulance or doctor. The
only exception is when you are all alone with the victim. Then you must see that
he is breathing, and out of further exposure to the pesticide before leaving him
to make a phone call. Always save the pesticide and the label for the doctor.
Poison on the Skin
The sooner the poison is washed off the patient, the less the injury.
- Remove clothing and drench skin with water (shower, hose, faucet, pond, ditch).
- Cleanse skin and hair thoroughly with soap and water. (Don't abrade or injure
the skin while washing.)
- Dry and wrap in a blanket
Warning: Do not allow any of the pesticide to get on you while you are helping
Chemical Burns of the Skin
- Remove contaminated clothing.
- Wash the skin with large quantities of cold running water.
- Immediately cover loosely with a clean, soft cloth.
- Avoid use of ointments, greases, powders, and other drugs in the first aid
treatment of chemical burns.
Poison in the Eye
It is very important to wash the eye as quickly, but as gently, as possible.
- Hold eyelids open, wash eyes with a gentle stream of clean running water at body
- Continue washing for 15 minutes or more.
- Do not use chemicals or drugs in wash water. They may increase the extent of
Inhaled Poisons (Dust, Vapors, Gases)
If victim is in an enclosed area use an air-supplied respirator to get to him.
- Carry patient (do not let him walk) to fresh air immediately.
- Open all doors and windows.
- Loosen all tight clothing.
- Apply artificial respiration if breathing has stopped or is irregular.
- Keep patient as quiet as possible.
- If patient is convulsing, watch his breathing and protect him from falling and
striking his head. Pull his chin forward so his tongue does not block his air
- Do not give alcohol in any form.
The most important decision you have to make when aiding a person who has
swallowed a pesticide is whether to induce vomiting or not. The decision must be
made quickly and accurately; the victim's life may depend on it. Usually it is
best to get rid of the swallowed poison fast. But: NEVER induce vomiting
if the victim is unconscious or is in convulsions. The victim could choke to
death on vomitus.
Find out what poison has been ingested. NEVER induce vomiting if the
victim has swallowed a corrosive poison. A corrosive poison is a strong acid or
alkali (base) such as dinoseb (DN Compounds). The victim will complain of severe
pain and have signs of severe mouth and throat burns. A corrosive poison wil
burn the throat and mouth as severely coming up as it did going down.
Most labels on emulsifiable concentrate and solution formulations suggest the
victim should not have vomiting induced. However, when the toxicity of the
pesticide is marked, its removal may be essential.
To Induce Vomiting
Give one (1) tablespoon (1/2 ounce) of syrup of ipecac to a child over one (1)
year of age or one (1) fluid ounce (2 tablespoons) to an adult, followed by a
glass of water. If vomiting does not occur in 15 minutes, the dose may be
repeated. Do not waste a lot of time waiting for the vomiting. Get the victim to
Make sure the victim is kneeling forward or lying on his right side while
retching or vomiting. Do not let him lie on his back because vomitus could enter
the lungs and do more damage. Catch the vomitus in a container and save for the
doctor. He may need it for chemical tests.
An ounce of syrup of ipecac may be obtained without prescription from your
If you do not have syrup of ipecac, give 1 cup of milk or water for victims up
to five (5) years and older. Induce vomiting by putting your finger or the blunt
end of a spoon on the very back of his tongue. Do not use anything which is
sharp or pointed.
A glass of soapy water (such as Ivory soap from a bar dissolved in water) may
also cause the victim to vomit.
The best first aid is to dilute the poison as quickly as possible. For acids or
alkalis (bases), give the patient water or preferably milk or ice cream - one
(1) cup for victims under five (5) years; or one (1) to two (2) glasses for
patients over five (5) years. Milk or ice cream is better than water because it
dilutes and helps neutralize the poison. Water only diluteas the poison.
It is very important that the victim get to a hospital without delay. DO NOT
INDUCE OR ENCOURAGE VOMITING FOR CORROSIVE POISONS!
After first-aid suggestions for noncorrosive poisons have been followed and
medical help is delayed due to travel or other reasons, activated charcoal may
be administered to hopefully absorb the remaining poison. It does not absorb all
poisons and a rather large amount may be required for it to be effective. For
example: it takes 1-1/2 ounces of charcoal powder (about 10 grams) to bind 3
adult aspirin. Mix the charcoal with water into a thick soup for the victim to
Individuals who work with insecticides should purchase from their pharmacist a
sealed pint jar of activated charcoal to have available in the event of an
accident. The most favorable experience has been with the following products:
(1) Norit A (American Norit Co., Jacksonville, FL) (2) Darco G 760 (Atlas Powder
Co., Wilmington, DE), but other products may be available locally. Remember that
the activated charcoal poison mixture must be removed from the body and medical
help is required more than ever.
When syrup of ipecac has been given, do not use activated charcoal until after
vomiting has occurred. The charcoal can inactivate the emetic principle in the
syrup of ipecac.
Sometimes poisoning victims go into shock. If untreated or ignored, the victim
can die from shock even if the poisoning injuries would not be fatal.
Symptoms of Shock
The skin will be pale, moist, cold and clammy. The eyes are vacant and lack
luster with dilated pupils. The breathing will be shallow and irregular. The
pulse is very weak, rapid and irregular. The victim may be unconscious or in a
First Aid for Shock
Unless he is vomiting, keep the victim flat on his back with the legs 1 to 1-1/2
feet higher than the head. Keep the victim warm enough to prevent shivering. Do
If the victim is conscious and has not swallowed any poison, give small amounts
of milk, water or if it is an adult, a dilute salt solution (1/2 teaspoon of
table salt to 1 quart of water). Give as often as the victim will accept it.
Keep the victim quiet and reassure him often.
WARNING: Never try to give anything by mouth to an unconscious victim.
First Aid Equipment
A well equipped first-aid kit, which is always readily available, can be
important in a pesticide emergency. Make up your own Pesticide First-Aid Kit
from a lunch pail, tool box, or a sturdy wooden box. It should have a tight
fitting cover with a latch so that it won't come open or allow pesticides to
leak inside. Label it clearly with paint or a waterproof marker.
- One ounce bottle of syrup of ipecac.
- Small plastic bottle of soap solution to quickly wash pesticides off the skin.
- Small plastic container of salt. Salt is used with water (1/2 teaspoon salt to 1
quart water) to aid an adult in shock if medical care will be delayed hours.
- Pint jar of activated charcoal. Mixed with water and swallowed, activated
charcoal acts as an absorber of many pesticides.
- Shaped plastic airway for mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
- Two, one-quart containers of clean water. If there is no clean water, in any
emergency use any available pond or stream water.
- Simple band aids, bandages, and tape. All cuts and scrapes should be covered to
prevent pesticides from easily entering the body.
- One teaspoon.
- A blanket kept in a place where it will not be contaminated by pesticides.
- Two quarters, taped to the inside cover of the first-aid kit for emergency phone
- Tongue blades (wooden sticks) - one to mix charcoal, another to prevent biting
tongue if convulsing.
- Two small, plastic empty jars with tight fitting lids; one for a drinking glass
or mixing activated charcoal. The other can be used for collecting vomitus to
take to the doctor.
- Can of evaporated milk (with can opener).
Warn Doctor Ahead of Time
Doctors generally may not be well informed of the symptoms and treatments of
pesticide poisoning. This is due to the few cases they treat. Pesticide
poisoning symptoms are similar to those of other illnesses and poisonings. The
pesticide applicator should tell his doctor which chemicals he will use. Then
the doctor can review the symptoms and treatments and have the antidotes on
It is strongly recommended that those with above average use of pesticides
establish a regular health surveillance program with their physician.
You may have noticed red, blue and yellow diamond shaped emblems with numbers
and letters posted on doors or buildings. These emblems are National Fire
Protection Association (NFPD 704) placards. The colors, numbers and their
positions on the placards are codes which warn firefighters and other personnel
what sort of hazards to expect in that room in case of fire or similar
emergency. These placards are used in industrial and institutional facilities
which are involved in the manufacture, storage, or use of hazardous materials.
This system identifies the hazards inside the room by three categories. The
number inside the left section of the placard with the blue background is
associated with health hazards; the top section and red backround is associated
with the flammability; and yellow backround on the right side , with
"reactivity." The higher the number, the more severe the potential hazard. The
highest number used is 4 and the lowest is 0. A 4 for health indicates the
presence of a material which could make it too dangerous to enter the area in a
fire emergency without special protective equipment. A 4 for flammability
indicates an extremely flammable material. A 4 for reactivity indicates a
substance which in itself may detonate a normal temperature and pressure. The
bottom, white portion of the placard is a space for special information such as
the presence of radioactive materials, or to alert the fire fighting personnel
to the possible hazard of using water, symbolized by a "w" with a line through
With spring comes the rush of planting season. A few years ago we experienced a
sharp increase in the number of highway collisions involving farm equipment. A
major campaign was mounted both to encourage farmers to use Slow Moving Vehicle
Emblems correctly and to reeducate the general public to recognizing the SMV
Emblem and acting accordingly.
The result of this program was a 35% reduction in the number of accidents. Let's
see if we can't continue that trend this year. Replace your worn or faded SMV
Emblems. You just might save a life!
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