Pesticide Prevalence

Author: Carol Pilcher http://www.ipm.iastate.edu/ipm/schoolipm/noede/76
Adapted for PULSE by: Patricia Wheeler
Editor: Stephanie Nardei


80 minutes (two class periods)


10 minutes


Computer with internet access
Pesticide Prevalence Worksheet

Students will investigate the prevalence of pesticides in their communities by:

  • Searching their homes
  • Visiting local grocery stores and hardware stores
  • Talking to extended family and friends. 
They will conduct their search by classifying pesticides based on the pests they control.  Results of their search will be discussed as a class to consider the prevalence of pesticides and their use of chemical tools.

Students will be able to:
  • Read a pesticide label to distinguish the trade name, common name and chemical name.
  • Classify pesticides according to their function.
  • Classify insecticides according to their chemical makeup.

National Science Education Standard
Content Standard A – Science as Inquiry

Communicate and Defend a Scientific Argument - constructing a reasoned argument

Content Standard F- Science in Personal and Social Perspectives
Personal and community health

Arizona Science Education Standards
Concept 4: Communication

  • PO 3. Communicate results clearly and logically.
  • PO 4. Support conclusions with logical scientific arguments.

Teacher Background

  • A pesticide is any chemical used to prevent, destroy, or repel pests.
  • The federal government has established guidelines for the labels of pesticides in order to inform the consumer of a given pesticide’s chemistry. 
    • The trade name is the name used in advertising, such as Round-up®.
    • The chemical name is a description of the chemical structure of the product, following the nomenclature for organic chemistry. 
  • Some elements found in pesticides are:
    • carbon
    • chlorine 
    • arsenic
    • mercury
    • zinc
  • The most recent U.S. EPA Pesticide Industry Sales and Usage Report found the United States to account for 34% of the world’s total pesticide expenditures and used 24% of the world’s total amount of active ingredient. (Kiely et al, 2004 http://www.epa.gov/oppbead1/pestsales/01pestsales/market_estimates2001.pdf).


(Kiely et al, 2004 <http://www.epa.gov/oppbead1/pestsales/01pestsales/market_estimates2001.pdf)

(Kiely et al, 2004 <http://www.epa.gov/oppbead1/pestsales/01pestsales/market_estimates2001.pdf)

Related and Resource Websites
EPA Kids Home Tour http://www.epa.gov/kidshometour
Pesticides industry sales and Usage 2000 and 2001 http://pulse.pharmacy.arizona.edu/resources/market_estimates2001.pdf 
 On the trail of pesticides in your community http://pulse.pharmacy.arizona.edu/resources/pesticidesincommunity.pdf


Day One
1. Show students empty containers of several household pesticides items.  Read the labels, conveying the trade name and chemical name.  Ask students to make an educated guess on the anthropogenic purpose all the chemicals have in common. 

2. Ask students to define what a pesticide is and where and how they are used.  Be sure everyone is clear on the definition of a pesticide and a pest, and then ask students to predict the prevalence of pesticides in their own communities. You can guide them by asking if pesticides would be something easy or difficult to find. 

3. Have them take notes in their science journals on the general classification of pesticides:

Pesticides are grouped according to the pests they control.  Examples include:

  • Algicides – chemicals used to manage algae in areas, such as swimming pools and indoor aquariums
  • Avicides – chemicals used to manage birds
  • Disinfectants – chemicals used to destroy harmful microorganisms
  • Fungicides – chemicals used to manage fungi
  • Herbicides – chemicals used to manage unwanted plants
  • Insecticides – chemicals used to manage insects and other arthropods, such as ticks, spiders or centipedes
  • Microbial Insecticides – naturally occurring insect-disease microorganisms that are lethal to specific groups of insects
  • Molluscicides – chemicals used to manage snails or slugs
  • Pheromones – chemicals used to attract insects
  • Repellents – chemicals used to repel insects or other pests
  • Rodenticides – chemicals used to manage rats, mice and other rodents

Option:  Student groups research a type of pesticide.  Have them take a systems approach to understanding its chemistry and the risks and benefits associated.  Students could present what they learned on the day you reconvene to discuss the results of their pesticide prevalence search.  Depending on students’ research skills, additional class time may be necessary.

4. Distribute the Pesticide Prevalence Search worksheet.  Have students write their statement regarding the prevalence of pesticides in their community and why they think pesticides would be easy or difficult to find. If computers with internet access are available in the classroom, have students do the “home tour” at the EPA’s website (see related and resource websites section). They should take notes in their science journals. The remainder of the worksheet will be done outside of class for homework.  Encourage students to be as thorough as possible and talk to as many people as possible.  Also encourage them to visit a grocery store and/or hardware store.  Give them about a week to conduct their search. Remind students that pesticides are chemicals that could be dangerous to humans.  Have the students wash their hands after touching any pesticide containers.  

Day Two

One week later reconvene as a class to discuss students’ findings.  Spend at least 30 minutes debriefing the types of pesticides students found within the community.  You could extend this lesson to take a system’s approach to the cost/benefits of pesticides.

Students will complete the Pesticide Prevalence worksheet outside of class. 

Embedded Assessment
1. Assess students’ ability to find information to support an argument.

2. Assess students’ use of information to support an argument.





PULSE is a project of the Community Outreach and Education Program of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center and is funded by:

NIH/NCRR award #16260-01A1
The Community Outreach and Education Program is part of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center: an NIEHS Award


Supported by NIEHS grant # ES06694

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