Pesticide poisoning

Poisoning prevention

Most poisonings are preventable. 

  • Read the pesticide label before mixing or applying a pesticide.  Understand the hazards of each product you handle.  Follow the safety precautions on the label and wear the recommended personal protective equipment.
  • Make sure that pesticides are safely stored in a locked, signed and vented pesticide storage area.  Do not store pesticides in a dwelling house. 
  • Make sure that children cannot access pesticides.
  • Do not transfer pesticides to unmarked containers.  If this is necessary, immediately label the new container with the name of the pesticide, active ingredient and the registration number. Do not use any type of container that could be mistaken for a food or drink container.
  • Applicators working alone should carry a phone so they can call for help.
  • Keep a file or binder of pesticide labels and MSDS sheets for the pesticides you use on your farm. Make sure that workers and family members know where to find it.
  • Post the name and telephone number of the Poison Control Centre, doctor, and clinic near each phone.

Recognizing poisoning symptoms

Family members, co-workers, and applicators play an important role in noticing when someone may be poisoned, providing immediate first aid, or calling for help. Anyone living or working on farms where pesticides are used should be aware of the symptoms of pesticide poisoning and what to do should a poisoning occur.

Pesticide poisoning may be obvious when a person is exposed to very high levels from an accidental spill or splash. However, pesticide poisoning is often hard to recognize because the effects vary from person to person, the symptoms may be similar to those of other ailments, or symptoms may not appear immediately.

Pesticide poisoning can happen from one short exposure (acute poisoning) or from many exposures over a long time (chronic poisoning). Both acute and chronic poisoning can exhibit mild, moderate or severe symptoms.

General symptoms which might indicate pesticide poisoning

mild poisoning

moderate poisoning

severe poisoning

  • headache
  • dizziness
  • weakness
  • fatigue
  • nervousness
  • loss of appetite
  • thirst
  • nausea
  • irritation of throat and nose
  • eye irritation
  • constriction of pupils
  • blurred vision
  • skin irritation
  • changes in mood
  • loss of weight

any mild symptoms plus any of:

  • abdominal cramps
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • excessive salivation
  • constriction in throat and chest
  • abdominal cramps
  • rapid or slow pulse
  • excessive perspiration
  • trembling
  • muscle incoordination
  • mental confusion

any mild or moderate symptoms plus any of:

  • inability to breathe
  • chemical burns on skin
  • respiratory distress
  • loss of reflexes
  • uncontrollable muscle twitching
  • unconsciousness
  • convulsions

Poisoning symptoms for individual pesticides are listed on pesticide labels. The symptoms are usually listed in the section called Toxicological Information. Consider keeping label copies of these pesticides in a handy location. Make sure others know where the label copies are kept. Go to the Health Canada website to find labels of pesticides registered in Canada.

General first aid for pesticide poisoning

Take emergency action immediately when you suspect a pesticide poisoning. Treating a person immediately may help prevent serious effects and consequences.

  • If the person is unconscious, having convulsions, or having trouble breathing, call 9-1-1.
  • Protect yourself from exposure (put on gloves, respirator, etc., as may be required).
  • Prevent additional pesticide exposure. Move the victim from the area of contamination and remove any contaminated clothing.
  • If the person is awake, call the BC Poison Control Centre right away. 
  • Carefully follow all instructions of the Poison Control Centre or 9-1-1.  Tell them the pesticide name, active ingredient, and registration number, and also, when the victim was poisoned, the type of exposure, and poisoning symptoms.
  • If the victim is in shock, keep the person lying down and warm until medical help arrives.
  • When medical advice cannot be obtained, check and follow the pesticide label for directions.  Look for a First Aid section on the label. Transport the victim to a medical clinic or hospital.

Skin exposure

  • Put on waterproof gloves.
  • Remove contaminated clothing.
  • Drench affected skin with water (shower, hose, faucet). Wash contaminated skin and/or hair thoroughly with soap and water. Clean under fingernails and toenails if they have been contaminated. 
  • Dry the victim and wrap in a blanket.
  • Place any contaminated clothing in a plastic bag. Label the bag "pesticides".

Chemical burns on skin

  • Put on waterproof gloves.
  • Remove contaminated clothing.
  • Wash the burned areas with large amounts of water.
  • Cover burned area with a loosely-applied clean cloth (any kind will do).
  • Do not apply any drugs or medications to the burned area. Do not use ointments, greases, creams, lotions, powders or other drugs.

Eye exposure

  • Hold the eyelids open and rinse eyes with large amounts of clean water. If possible, use a gentle stream of clean warm water. Do not use an eye cup. 
  • Do not delay rinsing eyes. The victim should start rinsing immediately (if able), and any people assisting should put on waterproof gloves.
  • Continue washing for 15 minutes or more.

Inhalation exposure

  • Move the victim to fresh air as quickly as possible. Protect yourself. If the victim is in an enclosed space, do not attempt a rescue without proper respiratory equipment. If you do not have the training or equipment to assist a person in an enclosed space, call 9-1-1 and explain the situation.
  • Loosen tight clothing.
  • Watch for signs of unconsciousness or convulsions. Keep the airway open.
  • If breathing has stopped, begin resuscitation. Use a plastic face mask to protect yourself.

Oral exposure (If pesticide was swallowed)

  • If a person is conscious and able to swallow, give them 1/2 to 1 glass of milk or water at most. 
  • Do not induce vomiting.
  • Call the Poison Control Centre at 1-800-567-8911 for further advice.
  • If the patient is retching or vomiting, place the patient in the recovery position. This prevents vomit from entering the lungs and causing more damage. Do not let the patient lie on their back. 

First aid kit and emergency supplies

If pesticides are stored or used on the farm, make sure the first aid kit contains:

  • Soap or detergent to wash pesticide off the skin
  • Gloves - pair of clean, waterproof gloves to prevent skin contamination of person administering first-aid
  • Clean drinking cup
  • Eye wash bottle - for washing eyes. Do not use an eye-cup
  • Plastic face-mask - for use during mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to avoid direct contact with patient's mouth if contaminated with pesticide
  • Paper towels - to wipe up splashes or small spills
  • Nail brush for cleaning under fingernails
  • Telephone information - numbers of Poison Control Centres
  • Clean plastic bottle
  • Fresh water for drinking

Running water or a portable container with at least 45 litres of water must be present at all mixing, loading and application sites.