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Handle Pesticides Legally this Season

Updated: Dec 16, 2021

Photo Credit Edwin Remsberg
Image of zucchini plant

This article is not a substitute for legal advice. See here for the site’s reposting policy.

This time of year many farmers are in the midst of their perpetual battle against unwanted weeds and pests. The best weapons against weed emergence and/or pest infestations are often chemical pesticides. The use of pesticides can be extremely valuable for growers, however, improper handling, applying, and/or disposing of these chemicals can lead to unwanted legal consequences. This post will outline a few of the resources, including Maryland's Pesticide Disposal Program, available to farmers to aid them in the proper use of pesticides.

The first step in safe pesticide use is having the proper license. The Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA) is responsible for regulating the sale, use, storage, and disposal of pesticides and for enforcing the Maryland Pesticide Applicators Law. There are several different types of pesticide applicator certificates and licenses issued by MDA, including private applicator certificates, pesticide business licenses, pest control applicator certificates, pest control consultant licenses, pest control consultant certificates, public agency permits, public agency applicator certificates, and "not-for-hire" business licenses and pesticide applicator certificates. Check out this resource for an explanation of the different categories of pesticide applicator licenses. If you need to take the applicator exam, you can register today to take the test on June 14, 16, or 17 in Annapolis, Maryland.

In addition to applying pesticide products in accordance with the label, farmers are also legally obligated to take steps to prevent pesticide exposure and mitigate any pesticide-related health consequences for themselves and their employees, co-owners, and family members who work on the farm. These responsibilities stem from the Worker Protection Standard (WPS), a federal legal requirement passed in 1992 under the authority of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). To prevent the improper application of pesticides, which increases the risk of pesticide drift liability, check out this past post. Farmers who use pesticides labeled with the WPS and want to learn more about the protective measures they should take to prevent exposure and comply with the law can check out this resource (What Farmers Need to Know about the Worker Protection Standard).

Safe storage and disposal of pesticides are vital to ensuring to prevent accidental human exposures and environmental contamination. Look at the "Storage and Disposal" statement on the pesticide label for instructions on where and how to store a pesticide, what to do with a pesticide that is left-over, and how to handle the container. Maryland farmers should refer to this regulation regarding the specific requirements for storing pesticides. The disposal requirements will differ depending on the toxicity of the pesticide. Several federal and state laws, including the FIFRA and the Maryland Pesticide Applicators Law (Md. Code, Agriculture Section, 5-201, et. seq.), regulate the disposal of pesticides. Improper disposal can result in legal liability and financial penalties for the pesticide applicator.

This year MDA is offering free assistance to farmers who need to dispose of unwanted pesticides through its Pesticide Disposal Program. The Program applies to any product with a registration number from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and any other material that can be identified as a pesticide. To participate in the program, farmers will need to fill out the registration form​ and submit it to MDA's Pesticide Regulation Section. The application period runs from March 15 - Sept. 15, 2021.

After reviewing applications, an MDA inspector will schedule a site visit to verify the information. A licensed hazardous waste hauler will collect the pesticide materials directly from the farm and transport them to an EPA-approved disposal facility. According to MDA, pickups are expected to begin in October 2021.

The Program is not annually available - it was last offered back in 2011 - so any farmers with pesticides that need to be disposed of are encouraged to apply and take advantage of this service. Completed forms can be sent via e-mail to or mailed to MDA.


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