Consumer Awareness

Each year Maryland homes and yards come under attack from a variety of pests, ranging from pests, such as termites, ants, bees and mice that invade structures to the weeds and insect pests found in the lawn and landscape. The term "pest" includes insects, weeds, plant diseases, nematodes, birds, rodents, snails and slugs. Materials used to control these pests are defined as pesticides and would include the following groups of materials: herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, miticides, growth regulators, desiccants, and rodenticides.

In an effort to control these pest problems, many homeowners rely on the pest control services offered by commercial businesses. Unfortunately, each year a number of homeowners are swindled by unlicensed or unscrupulous companies. During the past several years, the Maryland Department of Agriculture s (MDA) Pesticide Regulation Section has seen an increase in the number of homeowners defrauded by unlicensed firms. In one case, a Dorchester County resident was duped out of $14,000 for unnecessary termite and wood boring beetle pest control and repair services.

MDA is responsible for regulating the sale, use, and storage of pesticides and for enforcing the Maryland Pesticide Applicators Law. As part of these requirements, MDA is also responsible for establishing guidelines and requirements for the application of pesticides, the certification of pesticide applicators and the licensing of businesses offering pest control services. Any business that is offering pest control services, or applying any type of pesticide for hire, as part of a service or contract agreement is required to have a Pesticide Business License and have at least one certified pesticide applicator who has demonstrated competence in the use of pesticides.

Pesticides, to be effective, are toxic to plants or animals and vary in the range of toxicity to humans. The degree of hazard to humans or pets can be reduced if pesticides are applied according to label directions and if the appropriate precautions are followed by the applicator and the customer. For this reason, selecting a pest control service is just as important as selecting any other professional service.

In order to help protect consumers and ensure they are getting the service they paid for, MDA suggests that consumers take the following precautions before contracting for any pest control services:

  • Deal only with an MDA licensed firm. Ask to see a current copy of their Pesticide Business License.
  • Ask to see identification cards for sales and service personnel. MDA regulations require that all pest control sales and service employees receive training and obtain an identification card issued by MDA s Pesticide Regulation Section. The ID card must be in the employee's possession and it will list the person's name, the business name and address and show a photograph of the employee.
  • Do not accept service over the telephone without other contact with the company. Ask for an inspection of your property and for a written proposal that outlines the pest control program. The proposal should include information on the following: pests to be controlled; location and extent of the problem; control measures; pesticides to be used; special precautions associated with the various pesticides; and, steps that can be taken to minimize or prevent future infestations.
  • Review the proposal, pesticide labels, warranties and guarantees, and discuss the techniques that the applicator intends to use. Ask about alternatives that are available and inquire about special instructions that should be followed to reduce the potential for pesticide exposure. Make sure that you understand the proposal and that the pest problem actually requires the proposed treatment.
  • Contact at least three licensed firms to get a second and third opinion. There can be a difference in the prices, level of services, pest control procedures, pesticides used, and warranties or guarantees that each firm offers. Never let someone rush you into a decision about pest control. Select by the value, not by price, and don't depend entirely on the salesman's pitch.
  • The company should be willing to listen to your concerns about your pest problems and be able to provide effective and acceptable solutions to your concerns and problems. The pest control company should have competent personnel that can diagnose problems and respond to your questions and concerns.
  • Obtain a written service agreement and ask if the service is automatically renewed each year. If there is an annual renewal, request an annual written confirmation. Check on possible penalties resulting from cancellation of the service agreement. When canceling service agreements, make sure you putit in writing; don t do it over the telephone.
  • Pesticides should only be used as needed. Ask the company to tell you what materials it plans on using and why.
  • Check whether or not the company belongs to a professional trade association. This can be an indication of a company s dedication to good service. Trade associations often have consumer protection codes of ethics to be followed by their members and they keep their members informed of the latest technical information in the industry.
  • Check for complaints against firms that you have contacted. Call the Pesticide Regulation Section at (410)841-5710, the county Office of Consumer Affairs, or the Better Business Bureau. Ask for references of other individuals who have used the company's or firm's services, and contact them for additional information.

All commercial pesticide businesses and public agencies that apply pesticides must satisfy specific requirements for the protection of consumers as provided in the Regulations pertaining to the Pesticide Applicators Law. They include the following:

  • Upon the customer's request, the pest control company is required to give the customer advance notice of a pesticide application. In addition, individuals who have registered with MDA as a pesticide sensitive individual must receive prior notification of pesticide applications made to lawn and ornamental plants on neighboring properties. Further information on MDA's pesticide sensitive list can be obtained from MDA Pesticide Information Leaflet No. 12.
  • Whenever a pesticide is applied, or at the time a customer enters into a contract with a licensed pest control company, the customer must receive the following written information:
    1. Name of the pest control business.
    2. Maryland pesticide business license number.
    3. Telephone number of the business.
    4. Maryland Poison Center telephone number.
    5. Common name or active ingredient of the pesticide products applied.
    6. One of the following - a copy of the pesticide label; a portion of a pesticide label containing precautionary statements and environmental hazards; or a document compiled by the pest control firm that contains appropriate health, safety, and environmental hazard information taken from the pesticide label and approved by the Maryland Department of Agriculture.
  • After a pesticide has been applied to a lawn or to exterior landscape plants, the pest control company must post a standardized sign at one or more specific locations on the property. The customer is requested to keep the sign in place for 48 hours after the application. (Note: Signs are not required for fertilizer applications.)

You can minimize your exposure to pesticides by removing all cooking utensils, toys, pet items, sports equipment, lawn furniture, and other similar items from the area to be treated; closing windows and doors if an application is to be made outside; keeping adults, children and pets away from treated areas not standing in the areas during or immediately after a pesticide application; keeping off the treated area until the spray has dried or dusts have settled unless instructed otherwise; reading the information provided by the pest control company and following the precautionary statements for the pesticide applied to the property.

Protect yourself, family, pets and property by asking questions and understanding the pest problem and the proposed control methods. Evaluate the results to ensure the treatment was successful and done as proposed. If you suspect that a company is offering pest control services without being properly licensed, if a pesticide misuse has occurred, if you want to receive more information on pesticide regulations, or would like to request an investigation, contact the:

 Maryland Department of Agriculture
Pesticide Regulation Section
50 Harry S Truman Parkway
Annapolis, MD 21401
Telephone: 410-841-5710
Fax: 410-841-2765
Send E-mail to Dennis Howard

To find out more, call Pesticide Regulation at 410-841-5710

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Important Telephone Numbers

National Poison Center

1-800-222-1222
Call for emergency information on treating poisonings from any cause, including pesticides. Operates 24 hours a day.

Maryland Department of Agriculture, Pesticide Regulation Section

410-841-5710
Call for information on regulations, certification and licensing, report accidents, spills, and complaints concerning the possible misuse of pesticides. Open 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM Monday through Friday.

University of Maryland Cooperative Extension Service Home and Garden Center

extension.umd.edu/hgic
Contact for information and leaflets, on pests and pest control. Provides information on the identification of insects, weeds, diseases and other pests; pest control methods, including pesticides and alternatives; choosing plants least affected by pest problems; integrated pest management programs; and the safe handling, storage and disposal of pesticides.

National Pesticide Telecommunications Network

1-800-858-7378
Call for non-emergency information on pesticide product chemistry, protective equipment, safety, health and /or environmental effects, clean-up, disposal and regulations. This is a toll-free service funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and operated by the Oregon State University. Operates 9:30 AM to 7:30 PM EST Monday through Friday.

Chemical Manufacturers of America

1-800-262-8200
A toll-free service for non-professionals to provide non-emergency information on safety and health effects for any chemical, including pesticides. Operates 8:00 AM to 9:00 PM EST Monday through Friday.

Nuisance Animal Control

1-800-442-0708
Call for assistance in identifying and controlling nuisance wildlife. If on-site assistance is required, the caller will be referred to a licensed wildlife control professional to handle the complaint. The toll-free number is a cooperative program between the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal Damage Control Unit.

Maryland Office of the Attorney General, Consumer Protection Division

410-576-6550
For assistance in contractual related matters.

The Better Business Bureau

1-800-492-2101