People with questions about using pesticides correctly now can get answers on their smartphones and tablets, thanks to expanded online services offered by the National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC) at Oregon State University.
The center, which operates a national hotline, is growing its fleet of mobile apps, interactive content, video tutorials, and webinars for the medical community and state and federal regulators.
The efforts are funded by a five-year, $5 million grant from the Environmental Protection Agency, which announced the award Tuesday.
"The award represents a new vision for our national service that emphasizes modern online and mobile delivery. We want to be where people are when they need us," said Kaci Buhl, project coordinator for the center. "Online content allows us to better fulfill our mission of limiting the misuse of pesticides, reducing risk and promoting public health."
OSU has operated the national service since 1995, which is funded by the EPA in three- to five-year cycles.
Last year, more than 1.8 million visitors accessed NPIC's website, which received over 32 million overall hits. The service also answered questions from more than 17,000 people by phone and email.
The NPIC has also launched four mobile-friendly apps. The most popular, the Pesticide Education and Search Tool (PEST), offers quick, bulleted information on more than a dozen common pests. The four apps aim to be immediately accessible to users and suggest alternatives to pesticides for common urban pests, like fleas, rodents and bed bugs.
The service also continues to add hundreds of pages and new services to its website, including a ZIP code-driven locator for emergency services. It is also beefing up its presence on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and YouTube. The NPIC's website and mobile apps can be found at http://npic.orst.edu.
The NPIC's toll-free hotline is available in over 170 languages, including Spanish, Mandarin, Russian and Farsi. Each submitted question is handled by an expert with advanced training in toxicology, food safety, veterinary medicine or other scientific field.
"While we offer a diverse array of services, each one aims to present the latest non-biased information. We encourage our clients to follow label instructions, steer them away from home remedies and direct them to a range of non-chemical options to control pests," said Dave Stone, the center's director and professor in OSU's College of Agricultural Sciences.
The NPIC also collects data on pesticide incidents to inform national surveillance systems. For example, the Centers for Disease Control recently used the NPIC's data to issue an advisory about the misuse of pesticides for bed bug control.
The hotline can be reached at 1-800-858-7378 from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. Pacific time Monday through Friday. NPIC's number is displayed prominently on the EPA website and on many product labels.