The Ambiguous Pesticide Label/ Lets Make Labels Great Again

If the label on a pesticide product is the law (and there is NO DISPUTE of this fact), or so we’re told. Then deviating from it should bring consequences should it not? I mean going 55 mph through a school zone with yellow lights blinking will surely get you noticed. Robbing a bank will get you incarcerated if you get caught and you definitely should pay your taxes… slow as molasses as our Government is, they seem to break all land speed records when it comes to tax payments.

But then there are the crazy pest control laws out there like not being able to tie an alligator to a fire hydrant, or catching moths under a street light. Both illegal. Then there are the redundant, the contradictory, outdated or those that are obviously skewed for just one particular group of people or another. Try doing pest control in New York or California and you may see what I mean.

To be fair, almost all laws, rules and sets of directions now a days seem to have gone the way of CYA, or politically correct. You can’t put together a child’s toy from a box without a massive disclaimer, 1-800 hotlines or 3 different language pages all designed to protect the manufacturer and or seller. No warranties are supplied if you stray from the vague set of rules, instructions can be very confusing and it’s usually not until after you’ve done something wrong (tried to put part A together with part E) that you realize you’ve broken the rules and now you are in violation and here comes those consequences. (part F is not level resulting in only 3 wheels touching the ground at any one time;)  and calling that 1-800 number at this point seems like a worthless 30 minute hold time endeavor especially since you NOW see what you’ve done is wrong but you’re still kinda miffed that the directions weren’t clearer, that it wasn’t written in plain english. Disclaimer*(that’s “plain speak” to you multi lingual folks and not a limiting nor un inclusive choice of verbiage) 

O lord…. let’s get on with article…

So read on if you’d like, it’s a bit long I grant you. Or don’t, it’s not The Law! You don’t have to be licensed to read it, in fact it’s probably geared more to those who are not certified/licensed. Those who are newer and perhaps confused by the labels they read and want clarity. Hmmm, I guess this would be a good place for a disclaimer and a statement of use; This is my opinion only and should not be construed as legally correct nor binding unless by some chance you use this information in a legal case and then you win!  Woo hoo! Good for you… but I doubt it somehow, so no such warranty applies.  However, by not reading the entire contents of this article your comments below will become null and void and any and all expressed accuracy or assurance of information will be revoked whether implied or written.  This ad hoc article is Caveat emptor and dubia in meliorem partem interpretari debent to our manufacturer’s.

One Sample Label

Now, I could have chosen ANY pesticide label and pretty much come up with as many or even more examples of what I mean by ambiguous label directions. However I did choose one specific product that I, and thousands of other pro’s use on a daily basis. What is it you ask? lol and uhhh no!!!  I’ve been sued for less, so if you want to take the time you can just figure it out for yourself or, just look at any product you choose and just see if I ain’t right.

Truth is, they ALL read as an official document and seemingly command your attention just a few short sentences in. However one problem exists with almost every label and it’s right there in sentence #1 or #2 at the least and it automatically right off that bat shoots down the credibility of any such document to even the average pest control tech.

*Only for Use and Storage by Pest Control Operators and/or Commercial Applicators

Well now, what to make of that? Is the label really the law or is this just a “suggestion and unenforceable language” as I’ve heard it explained to me? Wow, there is no ambiguous aspect to this statement is there? No gray area that I can see, can you? Yet the VERY FIRST statement on our label is NEVER ENFORCED, NEVER HONESTLY ADDRESSED and NEVER INTENDED TO PROTECT ANYONE ( except maybe the manufacturer?-IDK, not a lawyer so you figure it out.)

There are 48 direct rules/laws on the label of my choice and 49 sets of directions. It can be said (and is argued that) “the label is the law” and that any and all language on it is mandated, enforceable and is the direct guidance that the applicator must adhere to in order to legally and relatively safely (ohhh did I say that?) apply said product.

Hmm, lets look at this shall we? I mean, right off the bat at the top of this “legal document it clearly states;

*Only for Use and Storage by Pest Control Operators and/or Commercial Applicators

Redundant I know but that is part of the problem as I think we’ll see. Besides, I really can’t stress this enough- IF THE LABEL IS THE LAW THEN WHAT HELL IS THIS CLAUSE/STATEMENT DOING HERE?  It is never enforced and it is ALWAYS poo poo’d in any and every ceu class I’ve ever been in. NOT once has a state inspector ever slapped a citizen in cuffs once he or she finds a pint of Suspend SC in their garage. Never have I seen on channel 9 action news a SWAT team swooping in to get illegal gallons of Bifen out of a home!!! Why not? The label is the law right?  They have no license, no certification and no training whatsoever and yet here, the most plain language stands out like a 11th commandment and it’s meaningless…absolutely without teeth. WTH? And yet you Mr. applicator with a license get one measurement wrong on a pretreat and apply just a tad lower dosage for an out buildings pad of cement being poured and you can face fines, penalties and even lose what may have taken you years to build…your business. WTH indeed.

Although harsh, and I in no way intend to be mean spirited to our men and women who work for our enforcement agencies, nor those who diligently supply our industry with the excellent tools (chemicals) we use everyday but… doesn’t this smack of hypocrisy to you? When just anyone can go on eBay or some such site and without a license, purchase this ‘restricted’ chemical? (I know it’s not a RUP-lighten up-) That I can be held to the laws and rules written there in but WHAM, right off the top, the first statement of fact-the VERY FIRST LAW on this legal paper is ignored?  But I digress- It is what it is, let’s move on and just ignore this fact and move on to the more nuanced, the more pressing issues that we are actually going to be held accountable for. The label.

It is a violation of Federal Law to use this product in a manner inconsistent with its labeling.

That is the law correct? This statement precedes ANY of the following so it must be kept in mind.  Ok???…

So– early on we read;

Other than applications to building foundations, all outdoor applications to impervious surfaces such as sidewalks, driveways, patios, porches and structural surfaces (such as windows, doors, and eaves) are limited to spot and crack-and-crevice applications, only.   All outdoor applications must be limited to spot or crack-and-crevice treatments only, except for the following permitted uses:
(1) Treatment to soil or vegetation around structures;
(2) Applications to lawns, turf, and other vegetation;
(3) Applications to building foundations, up to a maximum height of 3 feet.
Application is prohibited directly into sewers or drains, or to any area like a gutter where drainage to sewers, storm drains, water bodies, or aquatic habitat can occur. Do not allow the product to enter any drain during or after application.

Pretty clear to me. Read on;

Crawling and Flying Insect Pests (such as flies, gnats, midges, mosquitoes, cockroaches, ants and silverfish): Apply directly to walls, ceilings, window screens and other resting areas as a residual surface treatment. May be used inside residential buildings, as well as in and around car- ports, garages, storage sheds, unoccupied horse stables and pet kennels.

Now, to be fair this 2nd set of instructions is under the heading “GENERAL PEST CONTROL INDOORS” but when is the last time you’ve had midges or mosquitos inside that needed the walls and ceilings blasted? And, there is this statement not two paragraphs away…

Application Methods: For indoor uses this product may be applied as crack and crevice, spot, general surface treatments. For residential building and structures apply only as a crack and crevice or spot treatment. Treat where pests are found or normally occur. (I don’t know of ANY insect that ‘normally occurs on a ceiling-or a wall for that matter) Thus the ambiguous part of my articles title.

And why are we told? Treat specific areas that insect inhabit or where they are frequently found. Only to be directed to use 0.25 to 1.5 fluid ounces of XXX Insecticide in sufficient amount of water and apply to adequately cover 1000 square feet?  That’s A LOT of “specific area!” Same sentence and all in the context of crack and crevice only!!! Ambiguous? Lacking direction? You might say. In reading this label would you say it’s ok to spray someones bedroom wall? Appears so, or how bout the ceiling above the dining room table? Have at it. Just don’t go to nuts outside and go above 3 feet high or as you’d read your in violation. We wouldn’t want that. Over the years I’ve gotten more than one blank stare from trainees when trying to explain this and so many other directives. It gets confusing to them and it’s easy to see why they’re not sure just exactly what the powers that be are trying to ask you to do. I’m guessing that one reason we have so many label violations in our industry is a direct result of the operator ‘being alone’ to figure it out on his or her own. That usually doesn’t lend itself to to solid applications and there’s only so much a trainer can say or do before that tech is let out on their own. As a trainer, many times it’s come down to me instructing the person with a “do as I say and not as we think we know what the label is trying to tell us.” It’s just a reality, I’d love to hear all about how wrong I am so please, comment below and tell just how easy label training really is for you and your company, I’m guessing you have the same challenges.

Then there is the drain issue. We’re told in no uncertain terms to NOT treat around or in drains, sewers or even gutters where there is a possibility before during or after that the insecticide would enter such drain. (ok this is an exterior directive–got it… however, we are instructed it’s ok and even encouraged to treat around drains in the interior section.

This product can be applied to walls, floors, ceilings, in and around cabinets, between, behind and beneath equipment and appliances, around floor drains,

Alrighty then. Hey I’m not ignorant I can see that one set of directives says directly in while the other says around and, one is an inside directive while the other is an exterior but just how can I prevent the interior treatment (or exterior for that matter) from later entering said drain when someone mops, or a spill is made or it rains to high hell unexpectedly 2 days or an hour later? Check the weather radar you say? Great! Phone apps are perfect for that so there should be no excuse- hey I’m in Florida and did you know? That EVERY DAY is technically a 30% chance of rain? Don’t believe me, go take some flight lessons and see what they teach you’s only your life on the line. What about that saying I’ve heard in EVERY state I’ve lived in (It’s more than 5) that goes, “when will the weather change? give it 5 minutes”…

 Now, is there a different place that sewer or gutter water ends up or does your floor and shower drain go to the same place? That’s not very common even with todays standards so most water pretty much ends up in the same place. But let’s not miss the point, the label is so very specific with this rule/law about drainage in one aspect and yet seemingly oblivious with another. It’s confusing. Do we err on the side of caution or do we stay within the bounds of the LAW and treat as directed… hey, I’m just asking the question!

Now, in no place does this label even mention our favorite buzzword/acronym IPM until it comes to Carpet beetles, fleas and ticks. Be it far from me to suggest that that are many–hundreds in fact of situations where IPM is a straight up benchmark and “way to go” for a myriad of pests… fleas and ticks, ehhh, not so much. If ever there were the need for a chemical solution these would be my two main pests that I would say qualify. (my opinion- you may disagree)  If you’ve ever needed the full coverage to obtain full control using a larger scale of application it is in my view with these two. Sure they’re gonna have the greatest population nearest to their food source we all agree on that. But why this express directive

Care should be taken to limit spot treatments to pet bedding and its surrounding area, infested floor coverings and pest habitats. Do not treat entire area of floor, carpet or floor coverings?”

and yet for what seems like such a rare occurrence of other said insects you can…

Premise Pest Control: Cockroaches, Ants, Crickets, Silverfish, Firebrats, Centipedes, Millipedes, Clothes Moths, Earwigs, Pillbugs, Sowbugs, Scorpions and Spiders: Apply as a coarse, low pressure spot or crack and crevice spray to areas that these pests normally inhabit. Pay particular attention to dark corners of rooms and closets; floor drains; cracks and crevices in walls; along and behind baseboards; beneath and behind sinks, stoves, refrigerators, and cabinets; around plumbing and other utility installations; doors, windows and in attics and crawl spaces. Applications may be made to floor surfaces along baseboards and around air ducts. Let surfaces dry before allowing children or pets to contact surfaces.

I mean one is saying limit yourself while the other is saying not only be a baseboard jockey—gasp**-did I say that? It tells you to do so and the surfaces along said dreaded taboo place… what’s up with that?

Well, this article is getting long already and I’m sure I could dissect it even further — what’s more, I’m sure someone can pick apart my position (and I hope you do) and tell how wrong I am and how I have no understanding of labels and what’s been written. You know what, you’re right… But my point of all this is that if I’ve got questions and areas where I don’t have full and complete understanding, just how the heck are you gonna get full compliance and safe, legal application from the new person you hired who has little to no experience? It ain’t gonna happen.  Not even with the state mandated (Florida) 5–yes I said it, FIVE days of training they need to go out there and legally apply this chemical in peoples homes and businesses? Well- I don’t have that answer and neither do you but no worries, the label has covered itself with one of its last statements/rules/laws….


Read the entire Directions for Use, Conditions, Disclaimer of Warranties and Limitations of Liability before using this product. If terms are not acceptable, return the unopened product container at once.

Geesh & Good luck…

Hey let’s make labels great again and bring in some common sense and plain speak into our industry shall we?  I mean ignorance of the law is not a defense that’ll hold up in court that I know of,  but that shouldn’t be an a one sided excuse that our product manufacturers get to use while we’re left dangling in the wind wondering just what the hell they meant. Should it?  Just my .02, what’s yours?

About The Bug Doctor

Jerry Schappert is a certified pest control operator and Associate Certified Entomologist with over two and a half decades of experience from birds to termites and everything in between. He started as a route technician and worked his way up to commercial/national accounts representative. Always learning in his craft he is familiar with rural pest services and big city control techniques. Jerry has owned and operated a successful pest control company since 1993 in Ocala,Florida. While his knowledge and practical application has benefitted his community Jerry wanted to impart his wisdom on a broader scale to help many more. was born from that idea in 2007 and has been well received. It is the goal of this site to inform you with his keen insights and safely guide you through your pest control treatment needs.

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