Decoding Chemical Labels

Dan Zook

Mar. 22, 2016

The cardinal rule of ag chemicals: Always read the label.

Your best resource for learning how to use your product safely and effectively is the manufacturer. This helpful guide will help ensure that everyone on your operation has a safe and successful application.  

Active Ingredient Statement

The Active Ingredient Statement provides the name and amount of each active ingredient and the total ratio of inert ingredients in the container.

  • The important chemical(s) are individually listed on the label by the common and/or chemical name and the concentration (as a percentage) in the product.

  • Liquid products generally show both the percentage of the active ingredient and the amount in the container. Since all liquid products don’t weigh the same, it is important to understand the pounds of active ingredient in each gallon.

  • Dry products usually only list the percentage of the active in the package. If the label says a product has 50% of an active ingredient, then you can multiply the percentage by 16 oz. to figure out the amount of active in the package.


Key Pests Controlled

The list of pests controlled by a given product should be listed under the brand name. This is often not the complete list of labeled crops or pests, so make sure you review the entire label and verify that the crop you plan to spray is identified.  Don’t rely on general terms of what the product will control. If you’re spraying for rootworm in corn, make sure the label specifically identifies the product’s use for Corn Rootworm.


EPA Registration Number and Establishment Number

The EPA Registration Number indicates the specific company who registered the chemical and and verifies that it has been approved for sale. The EPA Establishment Number Identifies the approved EPA facility where the product was manufactured.


What’s in the Container?

Commercial Name

The brand name given by the manufacturing company, for example, Roundup®.


Common Name

The name given by the EPA to a chemical for easier recognition. Glyphosate is the common name for Roundup®.


Chemical Name

The technical name that identifies the chemical components and structure. For example, N-(phosphonomethyl) glycine, or Glyphosate.


Inert Ingredients

These ingredients are not required to be individually listed, but the total inert concentration must be listed. Variations in inert ingredients can affect the performance of the active ingredient, so it’s important to talk with your local crop consultants, pest control advisors, and university extension agents to understand their effect on particular crops, soils, and pests.


Signal Words

Signal words indicate the relative acute toxicity of the product to humans and animals. If two products will control the same pest, signal words can help you choose the least toxic option.

There are 4 Types of Single words:

  • DANGER ☠ POISON - Highly toxic by any route of entry into the body.

  • DANGER - Can cause severe eye damage or skin irritation.

  • WARNING - Moderately toxic either orally, dermally, or through inhalation; causes moderate eye or skin irritation.

  • CAUTION - Slightly toxic either orally, dermally, or through inhalation; causes slight eye or skin irritation.

Learn more about understanding signal words.

Other Information on the Label

Precautionary Statements

Information about possible hazards. Additional information can be found in the Material Safety Data Sheet, (MSDS, which are currently being renamed simply Safety Data Sheets or SDS). Includes Hazards to Humans and Domestic Animals and Environmental, Physical and Chemical Hazards.


First Aid or Statement of Practical Treatment

Direction on what to do if someone is accidentally comes in contact or is poisoned by a pesticide. ALWAYS call the National Poison Center Hotline (1-800-222-1222) for further medical instructions. Since the label has information the doctor will need, it is important to have the label available when calling the hotline or when taking someone to the doctor or hospital.


Directions for Use

“It is a violation of federal law to use any pesticide in a manner inconsistent with its labeling.” This section explains how to properly use the product to get the best results without harming yourself, others, or the environment. You can search for thousands of chemical labels here. The label’s directions for use will tell you:

  • What pests this product is registered to control

  • Where the product can and cannot be used (plants, animals, locations)

  • How to apply (or not apply) the product

  • How much product to use, often a range for soil type, organic matter, or plant size

  • Timing of when the product should be applied, either time of year, or stage of the crop

  • How many times you can apply the product

  • How soon the crop can be harvested after application

  • The Re-Entry Interval (REI), is the period of time after which it’s safe for people to return to a treated area after application


Storage and Disposal

This section explains how to store the product and what to do with the unused portion of the product and the empty container.

  • Always keep products in original containers, out of the reach of children, and in a locked storage area.

  • Be aware that temperature can affect product quality and environmental safety.

  • Do not contaminate food or foodstuffs.

  • For proper container disposal, always triple-rinse, puncture, and dispose of the container according to your local and state regulations. Find links to state and national regulations here.

Touchdown Total® is a registered trademark of Syngenta AG.

Dan Zook

Mar. 22, 2016