Respirators and Pesticides

woman wearing a respirator spraying pesticide on plants in a greenhouse
— Photo courtesy of USDA-ARS

The EPA has issued temporary guidance regarding respirator requirements and shortages for agricultural pesticide handlers in response to COVID-19. OSHA issued similar interim enforcement guidance regarding respirator shortages.

Inhaled pesticides can damage the respiratory tract and may pass into the bloodstream within moments. The consequences range from minor nose and throat irritation to permanent disability, neurological damage, or death.

Not only is it a health risk, but when the pesticide label directs you to wear a respirator, it’s illegal to do otherwise. Not all respirators are suitable for all pesticides, users, or pesticide situations, however, and selecting one is far from straightforward. The codes used to identify the different respirator types and components can be confusing. Worse, some pesticide labels still use outdated respirator language.

The following brochures should help demystify respirator terminology and classification: