As growers prepare fields for a new season of crops, the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services stresses caution in using fumigants.

Fumigants are pesticides that are applied as gas to fields, usually before crops are planted. They are used mainly for vegetables, nursery stock and other high-value crops.

“Failure to use fumigants properly can harm you, your workers and the environment,” said Jim Burnette, administrator of the NCDA&CS Pesticide Section. “Fumigants are used safely on a daily basis, but certain precautions must be followed to protect everyone involved in or near the application.”

Because fumigants can be hazardous when used improperly, several special requirements must be followed when using them. Restrictions include additional training for all users, additional soap and water to allow for a quick wash if the user is subjected to vapors from the release of a fumigant, and additional information on signs posted in the fields.

“These restrictions are mandatory for the safe use of these products and for the protection of workers that assist in the application of these products,” Burnette said.

Contact the fumigant’s manufacturer for information about training, he said.

Burnette urges farmers and other fumigant users to review labels for each fumigant carefully, because they periodically change and are updated with new safety precautions. People who don’t follow requirements on the label could be in violation of North Carolina’s pesticide law.

Environmental factors also play an important role in the safe use and satisfactory performance of fumigants. Each label addresses soil temperature or moisture conditions necessary for optimum performance and safety. Reduced soil moisture content during dry periods decreases the soil’s ability to seal and keep the fumigant in the ground. Low soil temperature may also decrease the fumigant’s effectiveness.

Still conditions and atmospheric inversions, which occur when air higher in the atmosphere is warmer than air below, can cause fumigants to linger in low-lying areas or settle over adjacent areas.