What is a pesticide?

Pesticides are chemical compounds designed to kill, repel, attract, or mitigate any pest problem.  The suffix of the word pesticide is the Latin root -cide, which means “to kill”.  But not all pesticides by the above definition, kill.  Consider insect repellents, which are regulated with the same strict requirements as all other pesticides. Any product sold in the U.S. for the purpose of  repelling a pest, whether garlic, or mint, or soybean oil, is considered by law to be a pesticide.

Almost all of us use pesticides at some time.  Disinfectants to clean baby toys, mildew killers to keep shower grout bright, and even chemicals designed to attract insects are considered pesticides under state and federal laws.

Despite their potential for harm, pesticides are not bad by definition.  Pesticides vary greatly in the hazards they pose to people and the environment.  It’s important, therefore, to learn something about the safety and use of any pesticide, regardless of where it is from.

There are many types of pesticides–and many different names for pesticides.  Insecticides are pesticides designed to control insects.  Herbicides are pesticides designed to control weeds.  Fungicides are designed to control fungi.  Each of these is a specialized kind of pesticide.  All insecticides, for example, are pesticides; but not all pesticides are insecticides.  Can you guess what things the following pesticide classes are designed to manage?

  • rodenticides
  • algaecides
  • piscicides
  • avicides
  • pediculicides
  • bactericides

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