Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Like a search for an honest man

When I started working as an extension entomologist I began a collection of books and files containing all the pesticide labels that I might have to reference in the course of answering questions from the public. Today I've pretty much trashed all the hard copies of labels in my office, because nearly everything is available online.

This doesn't mean, however, that finding things is easy.

What got me thinking about this was an email announcing EPA's latest update of their search engine called the Pesticide Product Labeling System (PPLS). According to the email, PPLS is a collection of over 170,000 current and historical pesticide product labels that have been approved by EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs under FIFRA.

The newest version of PPLS contains enhanced features to help you locate labels and label information you might need. For example, you can:
  • Search by product name
  • Search by company name
  • Search by EPA Registration Number
  • View labels in PDF format
  • Search label content
  • View the history of products that have been transferred from one company to another
It seems to me that the ability to quickly trace an EPA Registration number is a useful feature here, especially when trying to decode a service ticket where the number was given, but not the actual label name or formulation. The history function of this website is also interesting. For example, if I want to see how a Termidor 80WG label read from 2001, I could look that up. You can also read the cover letter from the manufacturer explaining what amendments were made to each label revision. 

I guess this is something that would be useful to lawyers, so it's good to know that it's out there; but the EPA site still doesn't quite do it for me.  If I know what I want to kill, or where I want to treat, and want to see my product options, it doesn't provide any help.  It's not a full featured database.

When PCT online announced it's search tool I thought I had found the holy grail of label search engines for structural pest control. You have the option of searching by manufacturer, formulation, site, pest, state or product name.  The problem is that it doesn't work very well.  When I searched for cockroach baits, for example, it only retrieved two products--a JT Eaton boric acid insecticide dust (not a bait?) and a Nisus Triple Shot Bait Station.  What happened to Avert and MaxForce and Advion and the dozens of other cockroach baits out there?

Univar's Pest Web also provides a product catalog and manufacturer links on their website.  Both of these are useful, especially the product catalog which allows you to search for all products by a manufacturer, or all products in a certain category like "insect growth regulators".  But that's about as far as it goes.

Agricultural pesticides have their good databases such as Greenbook, CDMS and CropLife Foundation; but no such (up-to-date) service seems to exist for structural pest control.  

While searching for a specific label has gotten easier with the Internet age, looking for a list of available products to solve a problem has not.  The search for a good search engine is a lot like a search for an honest man. We're all still looking.

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