by: Adam Speir
University of Georgia Department of Biological & Agricultural Engineering, Ag Pollution Prevention Specialist

How safe are the chemicals you store on your farm? An even better question may be how safe are the animals, environment, and even family, workers or neighbors on and around your farm? Your chemical storage and handling practices can be vitally important to the safety of all of those involved on your operation and also those near your farm.

There are five areas of pesticide management that are important to look at on your farm:

1) Storage Practices

2) Mixing and Loading Practices

3) Spill Cleanup

4) Container Disposal

5) Other Management Practices

Storage Practices

If stored in a secure location, pesticides pose little risk to the environment, animals or people. Common sense suggests you should keep pesticides dry and out of the way of activities that might knock over a jug or rip open a bag. Having any storage of chemicals on your farm poses some risk, but having chemicals stored in a permanent facility greatly reduces the risk when compared to having storage in a temporary location which might lack adequate precautions. However you store chemicals, they should be at least 100 feet from any well or surface water and also be down-slope from any well.

If you have a permanent chemical storage structure or plan to build one to reduce risk, here are some helpful suggestions to help you keep you, your animals and your farm safe.

* Having an impermeable (waterproof) floor, such as concrete or clay, will virtually prevent any seepage of chemicals into the ground.

*Having a four inch curb around the floor will prevent chemicals spreading to other areas and will assist in cleanup.

* In the event of a fire, contaminated surface water should drain into a confined area.

*Your storage facility should be close to any mixing and loading area to minimize the distance that chemicals are carried.

*Use pallets to keep large drums or bags off the floor and store dry products above liquid products.

*A locked storage cabinet or building provides more security. Also provide signs or labels identifying it as a pesticide storage area.

* Provide adequate road access to the facility for deliveries and emergency equipment.

* Keep pesticides separate to prevent cross-contamination. Keep herbicides, insecticides and fungicides on separate shelves or in different areas.

Mixing and Loading Practices

Spills and leaks are bound to occur from time to time, the key is to control those spills to prevent groundwater and surface water contamination. One of the most likely points for spills is in the mixing and loading of pesticides. Preventing spills here is likely the most effective way to prevent environmental contamination. No matter the size of the area that you need for mixing and loading, you should have some type of impermeable surface at your mixing and loading area along with curbing or containment. Because of this one practice, you can contain and reuse most spilled pesticides. This pad should be large enough to contain any leaks from bulk tanks, wash water from cleaning equipment, and spills from transferring chemicals. If you're parking equipment on the pad, the pad should be large enough to provide space around the equipment to catch all the wash water. Having tanks to store wash water from your pad means it could be reused as mixing water on subsequent loads. If doing so, having several separate storage tanks allows you to keep rinsate from different chemicals separate.

Here are some other tips for mixing and loading chemicals:

*You should locate the mixing pad next to your storage area to reduce the amount of transport needed for chemicals.

* Avoid mixing and loading pesticides near your well or surface water. If located next to your storage facility, this should already be the case.

*Install a back-siphon prevention device on the well or hydrants to prevent reverse flow into the water supply. Never put the hose in the sprayer tank, but provide an air gap of six inches between the hose and the top of the sprayer tank.

* Always supervise sprayer filling. For restricted use pesticides, a trained and certified applicator must supervise operations.

Spill Cleanup

Despite your best efforts to prevent spills, they can still happen. Even worse, there might be a spill that occurs when you're not able to easily contain because of permanent structures in place to capture the spill (such as curbing on a mixing pad or other containment system). For spills of dry materials, cleanup is relatively easy. Sweeping up the chemical is usually enough to solve the problem. If dry chemical is spilled on the ground and is not easily swept up, you may need to dig up the affected soil and field apply it based on label recommendations. Liquid spills can be more complicated, and more dangerous. The first step in handling a liquid spill is stopping the leak. Try to recover as much of the spill as possible and reuse it as intended. Spills on impermeable surfaces can be cleaned up with an absorbent material such as kitty litter or sawdust. This material should then be spread over a site based on label recommendations. If there is a spill on a permeable surface, it may be necessary to dig up the contaminated soil and field-apply it.

To best handle a spill cleanup, it is best to have an emergency plan in place. This plan should indicate which emergency personnel should be contacted if necessary, information on the chemicals most commonly stored, where any runoff water might go, and what practices are in place to manage spills.

Container Disposal

Proper disposal of containers will prevent unwashed and improperly stored containers from leading to groundwater or surface water contamination due to chemical residues leaching into the ground or running off site. A few basic guidelines will help avoid problems:

* As often as possible, use returnable containers and mini-bulks and return them to the dealer.

* Pressure-rinse or triple-rinse plastic containers immediately after use, since residues can be difficult to remove after it dries. Pour rinsate into the spray tank. Puncture the containers and store them in a covered area until you can take them to a permitted landfill or to be recycled.

* Recycle plastic and metal containers whenever possible. USAg Recycling provides a free service to producers by recycling triple-rinsed punctured containers on site or at collection sites. Contact your local county Extension agent for more information on this service.

* Shake out bags, bind or wrap them to minimize dust, and take them to a permitted landfill.

* Do not bury or burn pesticide containers or bags (this is illegal in Georgia).

Other Management Practices

* Proper handling and use of chemicals and reduction of waste can be of economic benefit as well as environmental. This means more than just reducing spills, but also not buying more than what you need, keeping accurate records of what you have, and using older products first.

* Buying only what you need makes long-term storage unnecessary and eliminates many of the storage recommendations mentioned in this article. You also avoid cold or hot weather problems that can make some pesticides useless.

* Record keeping may seem to be a nuisance and unrelated to ground water contamination, but knowing what you've used in the past and what you have on hand allows you to make better purchasing decisions.

* Keep records of past field application rates and their effectiveness. Along with field records, you can add information such as the manufacturer's name and address, chemical types and handling precautions. This information can be important if you must respond quickly to an accident.

* Using older products first keeps your inventory current and effective. Before using chemicals that have been stored for a few years, check with your county Extension agent about possible restrictions on their use.

Using common sense can go a long way to reduce most risk when it comes to handling chemicals. Your safety should be of utmost importance when dealing with chemicals, and this includes reducing any chances of chemicals reaching wells, groundwater, or surface water.

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