Utahns are more likely to have major health problems from rattlesnake bites than exposure to lawn pesticides, according to the Utah Poison Control Center.

Although lawn and garden pesticides can be potentially harmful if mishandled, there have been few reports of their causing serious illnesses, said Barbara Vuignier, associate director of the center."Pesticides aren't even in the top 10 most common complaints," she said. "And the calls we do get normally aren't serious."

Most lawn pesticides are not that hazardous because they are used in an open area, she said. Most herbicides have a low level of toxicity; insecticides can be worse but only when they are handled improperly.

The only reports of serious illness resulting from pesticides have come from accidents and deliberate attempts to commit suicide, she said.

"We had one man who was not wearing gloves while spraying his roses," she said. "And he had concentrated insecticide running down his arm."

The man suffered diarrhea, vomiting and muscle spasms but has since recovered without hospitalization.

In 1990, the poison center had 685 calls about pesticide exposure. Of those, only four developed moderate effects. There were no reports of serious illness from incidental contact of pesticides last year or so far this year.

The single fatality attributed to pesticides was a deliberate suicide, she said.

In comparison, the center received 33,000 calls in 1990 about problems with pain killers, she said.

The top five most reported dangerous substances are pain relievers, household cleaning items, bleach, cosmetic and personal care items, like perfumes and colognes, cold preparations and plants.

"Pesticides are not any more harmful than a large number of agents that we can be exposed to," Vuignier said. "They are in line with automotive products, mouthwash and hydrogen peroxide."

The Utah Department of Agriculture also has not had any serious reports of pesticide problems in the past year, said Gary King, UDA'S state and federal pesticide applicator.

"We've had more reports of property damage from pesticides than actual sickness," he said.

Homeowners who don't apply chemicals according to directions face the biggest risk of exposure, he said. Otherwise, pesticides can be as safe as the applicator makes it.