Basic guidelines to keep your pesticides safe and secure

Like it or not, the green industry uses pesticides. Few companies that are responsible for maintaining healthy turfgrass or other ornamental plants can produce the results customers want without using them. Even companies that exclusively provide mowing services use products that, if not used as intended, can be harmful to humans, pets or the environment. Their equipment uses oil, gasoline and other petroleum products, all of which need to be contained and properly stored. To protect your investment, as well as the safety of your employees and the environment, you must construct and maintain an adequate storage facility.

From time to time, sorting through existing product inventory to identify old, outdated products is wise.

Start by consulting with a professional engineer registered in the state where you conduct business. Engineers have developed the tools necessary to provide guidance in the construction and implementation of chemical storage structures. Though there are initial fees for their services, their advice will help prevent costly problems with issues such as hazardous waste and environmental damage.

Inventory your products

To store products efficiently and safely, establish a baseline or starting point. You have to know what you have. Be aware that pesticide products must be stored under a certain set of conditions, and you must comply with manufacturer and government guidelines. Potentially, each product can have its own unique storage requirement, so you must know what’s on the product’s label and Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS). Labels contain information regarding ventilation, floor and shelf surfaces, lighting, personnel access and containment in the event of a spill. These requirements are not only the law, they will also guide the construction process for the storage facility.

Create an inventory process, which usually entails using a documentation form, to account for all products being stored. These forms don’t have to be complicated or long; actually, simple forms work best. The more complex the form is, the more likely it is to be incompletely filled out or ignored. You can create and maintain the forms electronically so that as new products are purchased, additional line space on the form can easily be added next to the ones that exist for currently used materials.

Don’t Forget the Spill Kit

If you use or store pesticides or other potentially harmful chemicals, you must have a spill kit, which can be made or purchased from suppliers. Putting one together can be a good activity for a newly hired employee. This will acquaint them with the pieces needed, as well as the function of each. Items to place in a spill kit include personal protection equipment such as rubber boots, unlined rubber gloves, protective eyewear, disposable coveralls and a respirator.
Spill kits also commonly contain:

  • dry absorbent material such as sawdust or kitty litter;
  • a broom or scoop shovel to pick up contaminated materials;
  • a plastic container with a lid to put the contaminated waste in;
  • a set of self-adhesive labels and a felt-tip pen to document the name of the spilled pesticide on the plastic container along with the time and date of the spill; and
  • a laminated list of emergency phone numbers.

From a general business sense it may be wise to ask yourself the question, “Am I planning to expand the business into tree care, snow removal, vegetation suppression or some other product/service line?” from time to time. This helps ensure that your products and services are in line with the needs and expectations of the general public as well as your current clients. If the answer is “yes,” the new venture will probably include the need to store chemicals and will dictate the needs and specifications for the storage process. Keep them in mind when building your facility.

Pay attention to the floor

In addition to the requirements for ventilation, shelving and labeling, ground floor specifications are not to be taken lightly. In fact, according to Blaine Guidry, registered professional engineer with the Army Corps of Engineers, one of the most important design features of the storage facility is the flooring. Generally, three materials are utilized in storage units: soil and crushed stone, vinyl and concrete.

Guidry explains that there is a notion amongst many in the industry that concrete and vinyl flooring are impervious and are good barriers to be used to hold a pesticide spill, giving you time to clean it up. His experience and involvement in environmental remediation or processing hazardous waste of pesticide storage areas that have had concrete floors is contrary, in that concrete is not impervious as many green industry workers believe. In fact, concrete is permeable. It can be made impervious by adding a coating. However, when adding a coating it should be chemical-resistant because of the nature of pesticides. If the coating route is taken, a vapor barrier and capillary barrier will need to be placed under the concrete slab to keep water vapor from pushing up through the slab and blistering the coating, thereby rendering it unusable.

Although vinyl flooring is more impervious than concrete, it is not chemical-resistant. Guidry points out that some emulsifiable concentrates (ECs) can actually chemically bind with vinyl, making the original pesticide even more toxic and turning the spill into hazardous waste. In some cases, the flooring would need to be replaced after a spill, rather than cleaned up.

Loose soil or crushed stone is never a good choice because the pore space is too large, allowing pesticide to escape in the event of a spill. On the other hand, a well-compacted clay soil could actually be a better alternative than plain concrete or vinyl flooring, since plain concrete and vinyl flooring can become hazardous waste after a spill. Clean up of this waste is expensive, involves disposal in a “cradle to grave” landfill and could deflate the property value. If a pesticide is spilled on a clay soil base, in most states that soil could be removed and broadcast over an area following the label rate of application.

For example, if a 2.5-gallon container of 3.3 EC PRE-M (pendimethalin) was to spill onto a compacted clay floor and about 1 gallon of the product was lost to the soil, that soil could be dug up and placed on a non-cropland area to cover an acre to meet the application rate of the label. Due to the close pore space of clay-type soils, the pesticide would only penetrate slightly. The cost of this disposal method is much less than disposing of tainted concrete or vinyl, and repair to the area would also be less expensive.

Guidry summarizes that a properly constructed concrete slab with vapor and capillary barrier, a chemical-resistant coating and containment dikes on the edges of the slab is the most prudent and environmentally safe option to include for any chemical control storage area. He advises that a registered professional engineer (in the state of construction) should be included when considering all options.

Handling chemicals

Chemical products should always be stored in their original containers with the label intact. The MSDS should be close by for ready access to important information should the need arise. It’s important to put personal protective equipment (PPE) in a storage facility, including a face shield, unlined rubber gloves and rubber apron at a minimum. When selecting the proper protective clothing, guide your decision by considering which body parts could be splashed with the product. The ones that are most sensitive to being damaged are the eyes, hands and the region between your knees and beltline. Generally, the phrase “store ’em where you can see ’em” should apply; avoid storage of chemical products on the top shelf of a cabinet or shelving unit. At the same time, storage on the floor should also be avoided, especially where moisture may be a problem.

Bottom line, what does the inside of a chemical products storage unit look like? As mentioned earlier, certain products may require unique conditions, but the entire storage unit will be well-lit so it’s easy to read the label and distinguish similarly looking products from each other. Also, units are maintained at a moderate (60 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit) temperature, low relative humidity, are out of daylight and arranged in such a way that access is easy and open for quick notice or observation if products are missing, bags are torn or put away incorrectly. A good storage unit can be securely locked, is properly posted as a chemical storage area, keeps products dry, is fire-resistant and contains a well-functioning exhaust fan for ventilation. It’s wise to design the facility to make it adaptable and allow room for expansion. The rule for creating good storage conditions is that they are stable, easy to use and accommodate the products you use.

John Fech is an extension educator specializing in turf and ornamentals at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. You can reach him at