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Virginia's First Pesticide Safety Educators

Pesticide safety education in Virginia dates back over 125 years. It was Professor William Bradford Alwood, Professor of Horticulture, Mycology and Entomology (1888 to 1904) who first taught pesticide safety to growers and applicators in Virginia.

In 1889, William Bradford Alwood told a meeting of the Albemarle Fruit & Grape Growers [Feb.15,1889 - Charlottesville Chronicle] the following:
  • He warned them against indiscriminate use of arsenic during flowering.
    W. B. Alwood, 1888
  • White arsenic was caustic to foliage.
  • Paris green was better, but precipitated; it was dangerous to use too much.
  • London purple was better - it stayed in suspension.
  • He warned users:
  • To remember that they were handling poisons.
  • To take precautions to protect themselves.
  • That persons handling arsenic all day should wash at night.
  • That work was being done to render arsenic insoluble in water - lessening its danger.
In 1892, consumers contacted Alwood and his colleague, Dr. Walker Bowman, chemist at the Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station. The public voiced their fear of excessive pesticide residues on grapes. These two scientists conducted some of the first pesticide residue testing on food commodities to determine pesticide safety. They did the following:
Dr. Walker Bowman

  • Tested Virginia grape crops for fungicide residues.
  • Established that residues from over-treated fruit posed a serious food safety question.
  • Confirmed that, based on their findings, the commodities they tested were safe to eat (based on standards at the time).
  • Established one of the earliest recorded examples of pesticide residue testing by a state university associated with food safety education.
This made Professor Alwood -- Virginia's first pesticide safety educator and Dr. Bowman, its first pesticide residue chemist. After leaving Virginia Tech in 1904, Professor Alwood was hired by the head of the USDA Bureau of Chemistry, Dr. Harvey Wiley, as our nation's first enologist. Wiley was the father of food safety in the United States. Alwood eventually worked with Dr. Wiley under the authority of the Pure Food Act of 1907, a precursor of today's food safety laws. From 1907 until Prohibition in 1916, Alwood tested US wines and ciders for purity, safety, and quality at his Stonehenge Laboratory (national enology laboratory) in Charlottesville, VA.

More information on the many contributions of William Bradford Alwood.