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Major differences between European countries´ interpretation of biocides rules

News 12/9/2016

A report by the Swedish Chemicals Agency reveals that European countries make different assessments of where the line should be drawn between biocidal products and biocide treated articles. The report also shows that many articles which are marketed as, for example, “antibacterial” lack information on which chemical substances they have been treated with.

In the report the Swedish Chemicals Agency has investigated how European countries differentiate between biocidal products and treated articles. Seven Member States as well as Norway and Switzerland responded to a question from the Swedish Chemicals Agency on how they assessed ten examples of products. For nine products, the assessment of the responding countries differed. For example, there were deviating opinions on whether the biocidal function of an article was the primary function, and whether a mixture with a biocidal function is a biocidal product.

“Defining the borderline between biocidal products and biocide treated articles is complicated. That European countries make different interpretations is problematical, as this creates ambiguity and may entail major financial consequences for companies. The results show that clearer rules and fit-for-purpose guidance are needed in this area,” says Ulrike Frank, scientific officer at the Swedish Chemicals Agency.

The report also contains a market survey which shows that a large number of goods on the European consumer market are sold with claims of biocidal properties. This entails, amongst others, clothes, kitchen equipment, electronics and bathroom products which are marketed as, for example, “antibacterial” or “odourless”. Since 2013 requirements to provide information on the biocidal treatment of articles have been introduced by EU legislation. The Swedish Chemicals Agency has reviewed the information on 66 articles which were sold in online stores on the EU market with claims of biocidal properties. For more than four out of five articles (82 per cent), information was missing on which active substances were used for the treatment. In addition, instructions on which precautionary measures are needed during use in order to protect health and the environment were missing in most cases.

“Articles which are treated with biocides should not be used unnecessarily or in the wrong manner. To enable consumers to make informed choices, companies which produce and sell the goods articles must provide information according to the biocides legislation,” says Ulrike Frank.

The Swedish Chemicals Agency has also investigated compliance with the rules on consumers’ right to information upon request. Everyone who sells biocide treated articles – irrespective of whether this is done with a claim of biocidal properties – is obligated to, upon request, inform consumers on the biocidal treatment of the article within 45 days. In the study, manufacturers of 45 articles were requested to provide information on the biocidal treatment. 64 per cent of the producers responded to the question which was sent by e-mail, but less than one third, 29 per cent, provided a description of the biocidal treatment which is required according to the EU legislation.

“Our survey suggests that the majority of those in this sample who manufacture biocide treated articles lack the knowledge required to adequately inform consumers, or are unaware of their obligation to provide information. In order to minimise the risk for health and environment, greater knowledge about the EU requirements is important,” says Ulrike Frank.

Read the report: Market survey on articles treated with biocides

For more information, please feel free to contact:

Ulrike Frank, scientific officer, +46 8 519 41 321

The Swedish Chemicals Agency’s press service, +46 8 519 41 200,

E-mail addresses of the Swedish Chemicals Agency’s employees are written as follows: 

Facts on biocidal products

Biocidal products often work by being poisonous for one or several target organisms such as bacteria, mould or insects. But biocides can also be poisonous for non-target organisms and human beings.

If biocides are used increasingly and are discharged into waste or water, this may cause adverse effects on the environment and indirectly for human beings. For example, it is suspected that certain biocides can decrease the effectiveness of antibiotics, which in turn would make it more difficult to cure infectious diseases.

Facts on labelling requirements for biocide treated articles

For Sweden, the label should be written in Swedish; it shall be clearly visible, easily legible and durable to wear and tear for the time of the product’s usage. In addition, it should contain the following information: 

  • that the treated article incorporates biocidal products
  • the name of the active substance contained
  • the purpose of the treatment, how the active substance contributes to the function of the article, for example, that a substance has been added to eliminate odour
  • relevant instructions for use, including any precautions to be taken, for example, that those who use the article must take particular steps to protect human beings or the environment
  • if nanomaterials are contained in the biocidal product, the name of these nanomaterials. Nano is a term for extremely small particles.

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