Dr. Curtis E. Swift

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December 13, 2012
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SWIFT: Safe storage of pesticides, garden chemicals during winter

The onset of cold weather is a great reminder of the need to move all liquid pesticides and PVC pipe cement in out of the cold. Since I don't have a heated garage or one that doesn't go below freezing, I have to move these items into my home where they won't freeze during the winter. Finding a place where they will be safe from kids and pets can sometimes be a challenge but my cellar is a good fit.

Once frozen, PVC pipe cement turns into a gel like a 10-year old bottle of rubber glue. Once frozen, the only thing you can do is throw the can away and go and buy more. Since I do irrigation system repairs and upgrades I hate to waste a perfectly good can of PVC cement by letting it freeze. I always clean up the dried cement around the cap so it fits tight and add another layer of protection from fumes by putting the can in a Ziplock plastic bag. The more odoriferous PVC primer will stay in my un-heated garage since freezing doesn't hurt it.

My liquid pesticide formulations will also come into the home. Some of these will likely separate as they freeze and be difficult to get back into solution. If that happens I will need to dispose of them as they will lose their effectiveness. In case I find any containers that are leaking I'll take them down to the Hazardous Waste Materials center at the landfill. The remaining containers will be placed in Ziplock bags and stored away in the cellar for the winter. We don't have a basement in our home.

When the house was built in 1898 or so, they only had shovels and animal-powered scoops to dig out the basement so they did as little of that as possible. Most of our cellar is a crawl space about 18 inches high where I sometimes spend weekends crawling around to install electric cable to replace the old two wire electric lines initially used to wire the house. There are several of those tight areas I've dug out even more to make room for storage. The rest of the cellar contains a furnace, a fruit cellar, and a storage room converted out of a coal room for a coal-fired furnace since replaced. The cellar doesn't get too cold or too hot so is ideal for storage of PVC cement and pesticides.

The dry pesticides I have accumulated over the years, i.e. powders and dusts, will remain in the garage. Freezing does not harm these products. Water is what will cause their decay in usefulness so keeping these bags in good condition and placing any with tears into plastic bags is recommended.

Regardless of what pesticides you are moving from garage to home or elsewhere it is important to wear gloves. Nitrile gloves are the best as they keep you from coming in contact with the product and since every container once opened has residue on the outside, the use of gloves is very important. Many of the pesticide products on the shelf at the stores even have chemical residue on the outside of the container so don't take chances. Don't use leather gloves as leather cannot be decontaminated and you will be exposed to the chemical every time you put those gloves back on.

While we know what can happen to your health, i.e. liver failure, cancer, convulsions, etc., when you come into contact with a high dose of pesticide there is still a lot of data lacking on what happens when you are exposed to small doses of pesticide over a longer period of time. Don't take a chance. Wear gloves when transferring these products for winter storage even if the product is registered for organic gardeners. Nicotine sulfate, the oldest organic-approved botanical insecticide in use today, is very toxic to warm-blooded animals and is readily absorbed through the skin.

The term pesticide refers to insecticides, fungicides, rodenticides, molluscicides, herbicides, and even plant growth regulators. Molluscicides are products used to manage (control) snails and slugs such as iron phosphate. Rodenticides are products used to control rodents. While some of these products are very safe for use, they are still regulated by federal and state governments. The Federal Act classifying these chemicals as pesticides is the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). Even organic materials fall under FIFRA. In Colorado the registration and use of these products is also regulated by the Colorado Department of Agriculture.

When you store your pesticides, PVC cement, paint and other products in the home, it is important to place them where they can't cause health issues. Even when you bag these materials to prevent the escape of fumes, vapors might still escape. Storing these items as far away from children and pets is important to protect their health. Placing them in a locked cabinet or where kids and pets never go, like my cellar, is preferred. If the only place you have to store these products is in proximity to kids and pets, it would be best to make a trip to the Hazardous Materials building at the landfill to dispose of these products and buy a new supply of pesticides and PVC cement in the spring. Buy smaller sizes so you don't have to dispose of as much product when winter arrives again next year.

Dr. Curtis E. Swift is a retired horticulture agent with the CSU Extension. Reach him at Curtis.Swift@alumni.colostate.edu or check out his blog at http://SwiftsGardeningBlog.blogspot.com. He owns Swift Horticultural Consulting and High Altitude Lavender.

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The Post Independent Updated Dec 13, 2012 03:57PM Published Dec 13, 2012 03:56PM Copyright 2012 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.