Store Pesticides Safely

May 17, 2005 - 09:11

Even if using a chemical storage locker is not a law in your state, you should still follow these guidelines for safe storage.

The potential for unauthorized use of pesticides has prompted new concerns about storage and security. Now may be a good time to review your storage practices to see if they meet current guidelines. Proper storage can prevent accidents that could cause property or environmental damage.

There are very few states that have regulations specifically related to pesticide storage facilities. All states have guidelines and accepted practices that will help to keep them secure and isolated from the surrounding environment.
A well-designed storage facility has four components:

  • storage cabinet, room or building;
  • mixing area;
  • area for loading and rinsing spray equipment; and
  • place to store and secure equipment and records.


Before building a storage facility, you should consider the need for keeping a large inventory of chemicals. Purchase chemicals in smaller quantities or on an as-needed basis. The storage should be large enough to accommodate new chemicals, opened containers and unused material that is awaiting disposal.


The best location is in an area that isolates chemical fumes and dust from employees. This is often a separate building that is protected from flooding and the potential of fire from other buildings. Some states have regulations that restrict the distance from surface water (200 feet), public water supply (2,000 feet), private wells (150 feet) and farm buildings (50 feet). If you locate a storage cabinet or room in the headhouse, place it away from your office and work areas, possibly on an outside wall so ventilation can be provided.


For small quantities of pesticides, a steel cabinet is all that is needed. These are available from greenhouse suppliers and industrial safety companies in many sizes as wall-mounted, under-bench or free-standing units. The cabinet should be designed with a containment in the bottom to catch any spills or leaks.

For larger quantities of pesticides, a storage locker is a good choice. These are waterproof structures that can be located either inside or outside. Most are made in a modular size so that they can be added to if more chemicals have to be stored. They are designed with containment and a ramp for access.

Cabinets and lockers can be purchased as fire rated or non-fire rated units. Before making your purchase, review Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) to determine if the stored pesticides are flammable. If so, the storage cabinet should be UL-rated or Factory Mutual System approved. This will lower insurance costs.

Home-built units, either a wooden storage shed or metal building, are frequently used, although they cannot be safety rated. This may increase insurance costs. A concrete floor with containment sides and epoxy coating are needed to hold any spills.

Environment Control

Pesticides should be stored at a temperature between 40 and 90° F. Small electric heaters with a thermostat and fan work well to maintain the temperature above freezing.

Good ventilation removes excess heat, chemical vapors and moisture from the storage area. For walk-in cabinets and lockers, a two-speed fan, ducted to the outside can be used. Operation at the continuous low-speed rate of about one room volume change per hour helps prevent a buildup of toxic fumes. The higher rate can be activated together with the light switch when the area is occupied. When the storage is occupied, provide about six air changes per hour. A motorized intake shutter about 11?2 times the fan area should be installed in the wall opposite the fan. It should open when the fan turns on.

Herbicides and fertilizers should be stored in a separate cabinet or locker to prevent cross-contamination. Metal shelves, which are easier to decontaminate, are preferred over wooden shelves. Leak-proof plastic trays under the containers work well to contain spills.

Mixing area

The best location for the mixing area is near where the pesticides are stored. If it is inside the headhouse it is best to provide an isolated room with ventilation. The mixing area should contain a work surface with measuring equipment. A water supply and sink are needed for chemical preparations and clean up. Install a fume hood over the mixing table to draw fumes away from the person preparing the spray material.

Sprayer loading
and rinse pad

The loading area can be part of the mixing area, or it can be separated. It should be large enough to hold the largest sprayer. Its purpose is to collect any spills while loading and to provide an area for emptying and washing the sprayer after use. A drench shower and eyewash should be located nearby.

The base of the loading area is usually constructed of concrete with a watertight surface impervious to chemicals. A surface coating of epoxy is used to seal the concrete. A berm around the base should be installed to provide containment. This should have a volume of 110 percent of the largest sprayer. Ramps are needed to get wheel sprayers into the containment area.

A sump should be installed in one corner to collect any spilled material. The liquid can then be pumped to a storage tank for use in subsequent chemical applications.

Portable containment pads made of vinyl or nylon-reinforced elastomer are available. They should be placed on a level surface while filling or cleaning equipment. Any spill is removed and then the pad can be rolled up until needed again.

Equipment room

A separate area or room is recommended for storing protective clothing, equipment and records. It may also contain a shower, restroom, desk and phone. This is the best place to keep MSDS and other information for applying and storing chemicals.


With heightened security awareness and the potential for vandalism and theft, it is important to keep the pesticide storage locked when not in use. Warning signs should also be posted.

An emergency response plan with copies for key employees and the local fire and police department will minimize the risk of injury or environmental contamination in the event of a fire or spill. For larger facilities, an agreement needs to be developed among the owner, fire department, environmental agency and insurance company about what action to take if a fire starts. Depending on what material is being stored, it may be best to let the storage burn if the application of water will result in extensive contaminated water runoff or the release of toxic compounds into the air.

A pesticide spill kit with absorbent mats, pillows, granular absorbent, hydrated lime, sodium hypochlorite and a drum patch kit should be on hand for small spills. A broom, shovel, squeegee, plastic pails and bags will help with clean up.

Additional information on setting up a pesticide storage is available in the 22-page publication On-Farm Agrichemical Handling Facilities — NRAES-78, available for $9 from the Natural Resources Management & Engineering Department, 1376 Storrs Rd., Uconn, Storrs, Conn., 06269-4087.

About The Author

John Bartok Jr. is an agricultural engineer and extension professor-emeritus in the Natural Resource Management and Engineering Department at the University of Connecticut, Storrs, Conn. He can be reached by E-mail at

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