An article in The Des Moines Register in early July created a significant stir among the regulatory community, extension staff, and even a few pesticide applicators and homeowners. The article was a passing look at non-scientific home remedies for a variety of problems. One of the remedies suggested that people suffering from poison ivy dermatitis could treat it with three applications of "broad-leaf herbicide" (one tablespoon per gallon) directly to the affected skin! Although a correction has been printed, it is important to note that intentional application of any herbicide to the skin is not only illegal as a non-labeled use, but has considerable potential human health consequences. This practice would constitute pesticide exposure between 1 and 1.5 million times the drinking water standard for several commonly used herbicides.
What could happen if someone used herbicides this way? Possibly nothing visible, but some products would likely aggravate the existing dermatitis, or independently induce a painful and difficult to treat chemical dermatitis. Product absorbed through the skin can cause nausea, headache, and a variety of other symptoms. Additional chronic effects may not be immediately apparent, but could add to the problem.
There was one bright spot in this story. Public response questioning the safety of applying herbicides to the skin was considerable, which shows a certain level of public awareness. Pesticides can be valuable tools for homeowner and producers, but unwise (illegal) use can result in great harm--a fact that many readers of the Register apparently know.
This article originally appeared on page 153 of the IC-478(19) -- July 28, 1997 issue.