Healthy Environment, Healthy Community, Healthy Business

Environment Protection Authority

Environmental Issues

Chemicals and pesticides

How to respond to pesticide misuse

What is pesticide misuse?

Pesticide misuse includes:

  • failing to follow label or permit instructions
  • injuring people or damaging property, or using pesticides in a way that is likely to injure people or damage property
  • harming a non-target plant or animal
  • using an unregistered pesticide or possessing one (and intending to use it)
  • storing pesticides in containers that do not have the approved label attached
  • disposing of a pesticide or its container illegally, e.g. pouring pesticide waste down a drain
  • spraying pesticides from an aircraft without a relevant EPA licence
  • spraying pesticide from an aircraft within 150 metres of a residence, school or other public place (excluding roads, travelling stock reserves and RailCorp land) without the written consent of the occupier.

There are also broader pollution offences, especially water pollution by pesticides.

What can you do to help investigate an alleged misuse?

Keep records of the details of exactly what you saw. Take photos or video recordings if possible and report the incident as soon as possible. 

To report the alleged misuse of pesticide contact the Environment Line. All reports are confidential.

Try to provide as much information as possible about the incident you are reporting such as:

  • date, time and exact location of the affected area
  • duration of the event
  • weather conditions (wind, temperature, humidity) at the time of the event 
  • what you have experienced
  • description of the operator and/or any contact details about the pesticide user you suspect of pesticide misuse
  • symptoms of harm to people, plants or animals
  • name or type of pesticide, if known
  • how the pesticide was applied (for example by air, knapsack, tractor, truck)
  • to what crop or plants it was applied, or for what situation (for example termite treatment)
  • description of spray equipment (colour, size, type, registration numbers)
  • how the spray equipment was being used, including the exact location and the direction and speed of movement
  • names and contact details of any other witnesses
  • any photographs or video recordings of the incident 
  • details of any notification provided prior to pesticide application (such as signs, letters or telephone calls advising of the pesticide use).

If practical and safe, try not to wash vehicles or possessions that are sprayed until you have received advice from the EPA. These may be important as evidence of misuse. PLEASE NOTE: For health reasons this does not apply to people.

Consider not harvesting or grazing a crop or pasture that you believe has been affected or washing a sprayed windscreen of a vehicle until an EPA-authorised officer has assessed the situation (by telephone or visit) and taken samples where appropriate.

EPA-authorised officers may also seek your assistance in preserving certain evidence in some cases (e.g. dead organisms).

Health caution

If you feel that you are at risk as a result of exposure to pesticide, move away from the vicinity of the application site (for example leave the premises, or move into a building or vehicle and close the windows and doors).

Any person concerned that their health may be affected from the misuse of a pesticide should seek immediate medical assistance from their general practitioner or local hospital.

The Poisons Information Centre may also be able to help in cases of acute poisoning and can be contacted from anywhere in Australia on 13 11 26.

Where possible, practical and safe, contact the person applying the pesticide or the neighbour or company that has contracted their services and tell them your concerns. There are first aid instructions and safety directions on all pesticide labels. Try to obtain this information if possible.

Pesticides in the workplace

Workplace health issues are covered in detail in the WorkCover NSW Codes of Practice Safe Use and Storage of Chemicals (Including Pesticides and Herbicides) in Agriculture Code of Practice 2006, and the Safe Use of Pesticides including Herbicides in Non-agricultural Workplaces Code of Practice 2006. For advice about workplace exposure to pesticides call SafeWork NSW (formerly WorkCover) on 131 050.

Dealing with pesticide exposure

Information on dealing with pesticide exposure is provided in Chapter 11 of WorkCover NSW's Safe Use of Pesticides including Herbicides in Non-agricultural Workplaces Code of Practice 2006. This information includes:

"11.3 Emergency treatment - first aid procedures

11.3.1 General procedures

  • read and follow the instructions on the label
  • if the sufferer is unconscious, do not induce vomiting and do not administer anything by mouth
  • first aid is only the first step, and is not a substitute for full professional medical treatment
  • following first aid, take the sufferer to a doctor or hospital and make sure you take along the pesticide container or label, or MSDS.

11.3.2 Specific first aid instructions

Check the following procedures for each route of entry:

  1. spilled on the skin or clothing, remove the clothing immediately and thoroughly wash the skin with water or soap. Do not scrub the skin harshly and do not use ointments, powders or medication unless instructed to do so by a doctor.
  2. inhaled, get the sufferer to fresh air and keep him/her lying down, warm and calm. If breathing stops, use mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
  3. splashed into the eye, hold the eyelid open and gently wash the eye with clean running water for 15 minutes. Cover the eye with a clean cloth and seek medical attention immediately.
  4. swallowed, read the instruction on the label - it will direct whether or not vomiting should be induced. Examples where you should not induce vomiting are pesticides that are petroleum based ('Emulsifiable Concentrate') or corrosive (acid or alkali).

The OHS Regulation requires employers to maintain a first aid kit. Consider keeping a suitable kit in each pest control vehicle."

Source: Chapter 11 Planning Emergency Procedures, Safe Use of Pesticides including Herbicides in Non-agricultural Workplaces Code of Practice 2006, WorkCover NSW


Exposure to aerial pesticide sprays

More information about the measures that can be taken by people who believe they have been exposed to pesticides applied aerially in rural areas is provided in the publication Exposure to Aerial Pesticide Sprays information for communities in rural NSW, Australian Agricultural Health Unit (May 1997). For copies of the publication contact the Australian Centre for Agricultural Health and Safety (Moree) on (02) 6752 8210.

EPA actions

EPA authorised officers are authorised to investigate pesticide misuse and this may lead to prosecution where appropriate evidence is obtained. Offences under the Pesticides Act are criminal offences, so it is necessary for the EPA to prove an offence beyond reasonable doubt.

Depending on the details of the reported incident, EPA regulatory action may not be appropriate. The EPA may provide advice that the action was within the law, direct pesticide users to sources of advice on best practice use of pesticides, issue a warning to the pesticide user, refer the incident to another authority where appropriate, or facilitate communication among the people involved.

Page last updated: 13 October 2016