Washing pesticide-contaminated clothing

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The spray season is upon us. Without a doubt, unless you're covered head to toe with a protective suit, your clothing is bound to become contaminated with pesticides.

If you don't launder the clothing, you can keep contaminating yourself over and over again by putting the shirts, slacks, shoes, and hat back on. This slow, chronic poisoning can actually be worse than a one-time pesticide spill since that is so blatant you notice it and take action. With bit-by-bit, you don't think much about it.

Those handling pesticides should get in the habit of washing clothing daily, never wearing anything two days or more in a row. Also, realize that leather absorbs pesticides and removing that potential poisoning can be difficult.

Of course, the first line of defense is proper clothing. Even though it may be 85 degrees outside with a similar humidity, employees handling pesticides should be wearing long pants and long-sleeved shirts, coupled with socks, shoes, hat/cap, and gloves.

And the second line of defense is showering daily. If using toxic products, consider showering twice daily – once at noon and once at the end of the day. Of course, change clothing after showering.

Below are some tips from NPIC (National Pesticide Information Center: http://npic.orst.edu/)

• First, talk to the person doing the laundry. Let them know that clothing could be contaminated. Give them tongs or plastic gloves to handle the clothing.

• Store and wash contaminated clothing separately from the family laundry. Why would you want to potentially contaminate your families clothing?

• Have a separate hamper or basket specifically for contaminated clothing. Keep the hamper away from children.

• Clothes that are soaked with pesticides, pesticide concentrations, or those labeled Danger/Poison should be thrown away rather than washed. This is a must! This is also a great reason for having disposable coveralls.

• Wash work clothing DAILY to maximize removal of chemicals. Clothing can keep pesticides away from the skin during work hours; however, that same clothing can become a source of contamination if pesticides aren't laundered after each use.

• Pre-rinse contaminated clothing by hosing them down outdoors, soaking in a separate tub or agitating in the washing machine for a few minutes, draining the tub and refilling.

• Wash only a few items at a time.

• Use hot water - the hotter the better. While this is ideal, remember that hot water can shrink cotton and wool.

• Use heavy duty laundry detergent.

• Laundry additives such as chlorine bleach or ammonia do not improve removal of pesticide residues.

• Line dry, if possible. Sunlight breaks down many pesticides and it can prevent residues from collecting in the dryer. If you are drying, use a cool setting.

• Remove any leftover pesticides from the washer by running an "empty load" through the complete cycle with hot water and the heavy duty laundry detergent.

• Businesses might want to consider having a laundry system, especially if uniforms are required by workers. This is just one more way to provide a pesticide safety system for employees.

• Personal Protection Equipment such as boots, aprons, goggles, and gloves should be washed thoroughly daily and allowed to dry.

• There isn't much research on the new low-water washers and their ability to remove pesticides. So, until there is, use the old fashioned washers that fill the washtub with water.

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