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The chemicals that people use to get rid of weeds, insects and other pests are not cotton candy. They are poisons. They end in the suffix "-cide," from the Latin, "killer." As in "pesticide," "herbicide" and "homicide."

Yet, all too often, these substances are thrown around our environment like so much water. Even when the people applying them are worried enough to wear protective gear, they can behave as though only weeds and insect larvae will be harmed by the spraying of these compounds on residential lawns or on some other space adjacent to children and animals. It is a confidence that is not justified by the nature of these chemicals, by the very human factors that go into their use and by the different ways humans and animals might react to them.

Utah law requires pest control companies to warn their customers of the dangers of these chemicals. But it contains no provision requiring the notification of the customers' neighbors, who may be in as much danger as those who actually live where the stuff is to be sprayed. That is a flaw that should be repaired

Pesticide workers in at least one other state — New York — are required by that state's law to notify those who live within 150 feet of an application site at least 48 hours ahead of time. Usually, it is done by postcard. And individuals who apply their own bug and weed killer are informed by signs at their retailers that they must post warnings on their property before using the chemicals.

Even when a chemical is approved for use in places where humans and domestic animals are found, there are many factors that can lead to illness or death whenever such substances are used. Those using the poisons may make errors in the way they are mixed and applied. The wind may come up without warning, wafting poisons into neighbors' lawns and even into their homes. Those nearby may prove particularly vulnerable by dint of age or health condition.

A North Salt Lake family recently lost its golden retriever only minutes after the animal inhaled pesticides being applied to a neighbor's property. While there is no concrete proof that it was cause-and-effect, the family could have taken steps to keep its pet inside during the application if they had been warned. As it is, they feel very lucky that it was not their toddler daughter who was exposed.

The fact that the state lacks the personnel necessary to uniformly enforce such a notice requirement does not alter the fact that such notice should be given. It is just good manners.

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