Environmental Stewardship
Environmental Stewardship
Personal Protection


Respirator requirements for U.S. registered pesticides are determined by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) using a risk assessment procedure that considers the acute toxicity of the end-use product, potential for exposure (as determined by the exposure situation - enclosed space or outdoors), and the application form of the material (gases, solids, liquids). The requirements for respirator use are contained in the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) section of the pesticide product label.

EPA Toxicity Category I and II products (Danger and Warning signal words) normally require respiratory protection. Exposure to toxicity Categories III and IV products (Caution signal words) do not customarily require a respirator, but EPA may choose to require one if the registration risk assessment indicates it is needed to protect human health. Registrants may request a different label respirator requirement if the standard requirements are judged to be insufficient or overly protective, but EPA makes the final determination on the type that will be required. More information about EPA pesticide label respirator requirements can be found at 40 CFR 156.212 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/40cfr156_03.html.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) tests and certifies the effectiveness of respiratory protection devices of all types. EPA requires that only NIOSH-approved respirators be used where a respirator is required. The traditional "pesticide" respirator assemblies approved by NIOSH include dust/mist filters or combination respirators incorporating an organic vapor cartridge with a dust/mist prefilter. Additional information on the NIOSH respirator certification process is available at http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/npptl/topics/respirators/.

Under EPA pesticide regulations, Category I and II pesticide products applied as a gas outdoors normally require a combination organic vapor cartridge respirator with a dust/mist prefilter. Gaseous products applied indoors require an air-supplied respirator or self-contained breathing apparatus.

The respirator assembly typically required by EPA for solid Toxicity Category I and II pesticide products is a NIOSH-approved dust/mist respirator. Filters are classified by the particle removal efficiency (a numerical rating of 95, or 99.97% efficiency) and whether oil is present in the atmosphere (N - no oil, P - oil proof, or R - reusable in the presence of oil). Filters are rated against oil because oil can decrease the respirator filter effectiveness and ultimately worker protection. Approved dust/mist respirators are commonly available in disposable filtering facepiece (dust mask) and dual cartridge styles, and as pre-filters used in combination with organic vapor cartridge respirators.

Toxicity Category I and II liquid pesticide products normally require a combination organic vapor and particulate respirator assembly. The most common NIOSH approved combination respirator style used in the U.S. is probably a half-mask dual cartridge respirator with replaceable pre-filters and organic vapor cartridges.

The management of respirator programs in the U.S. is regulated by OSHA. Where respirators are necessary to protect the health of workers, OSHA requires that an effective respirator program be established. The details of what constitutes an "effective" program are outlined in the OSHA Respiratory Protection Standard, found at 29 CFR 1910.134. Access to the Standard and other supporting information is found at http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/respiratoryprotection/index.html.

NIOSH approved respirators are available from a number of U.S. manufacturers. Most have excellent websites that provide help in respirator selection, including design features, approvals and cost information. Many companies now supply respirators through local safety supply distributors. Both the suppliers and distributors can provide detailed information about how to establish an effective respirator program.

This article is intended only as an overview of the EPA pesticide respirator selection requirements and related regulations. Always refer to the product label for specific requirements about the type of respirator to use.