Regulations on biocides still patchy

Fewer biocides for the sake of the environment

A wooden fence is paintedClick to enlarge
Every product containing biocides has to pass an environmental risk assessment.
Source: awfoto /

Regulations on the use of biocides must become more specific and more binding. The risks of these substances, which are contained in products such as wood preservatives and insect repellents, were underestimated for a long time. The existing EU Biocides Directive has only concerned the placing of biocidal products on the market but not how they may be used. New regulations governing their use could be oriented towards the guidelines which are applicable to plant protection products. There are more than 30,000 biocidal products on the market in Germany. Their primary application is as pesticides used outside of agriculture. The UBA and the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety are organizing an international workshop on 31 March - 1 April 2014 in Berlin to discuss with representatives from the EU Commission, public authorities in the EU Member States, industry and NGOs from twelve European countries how to make the use of biocides more sustainable. Possible measures include imposing a limit on the sale of certain products or applications in sensitive natural environments, for example nature conservation areas and water protection areas.

Biocides are substances which are used to repel or combat harmful organisms such as insects, fouling of ship hulls or mould, and to protect materials like wood against such organisms. They are often toxic and affect not only these organisms but also those in soil and water bodies. They come into direct contact with humans and the environment when in use, which is why they pose a risk to man and the environment. The current EU Biocides Regulation No 528/2012 governs how biocides are made available on the market, but it lacks specific requirements of their applications, says a research project done on behalf of UBA by the Hydrotox GmbH company, Ökopol GmbH and the Öko-Institut e.V. Institute for Applied Ecology.

To guarantee the sustainable, environmentally just use of biocides, the EU Biocides Directive must be further developed to parallel the EU Directive No 2009/128/EC on the sustainable use of pesticides, which contains an action plan on sustainable use. The fact that the active ingredients in biocides and plant protection products are sometimes identical can provide orientation. Potential risks for human health and the environment that are linked to the use of biocides could thereby be reduced or prevented altogether. It must also be taken into account that biocides are used in many different areas, which include disinfection, for the protection of building facades, to prevent fouling on ship hulls, and also to combat rodents. This is why the Federal Environment Agency favours product-specific regulations.

Another study done on behalf of UBA is drawing up recommendations for action to reduce risk associated with the use of biocides. These recommendations will be discussed and developed further at an international workshop attended by experts from twelve countries, which is being organised by the Federal Environment Agency on 31 March - 1 April 2014 in Berlin. In conformity with the provisions applicable to plant protection products, the following measures must be set out in detail:

  • Restrictions on sales and applications of high-risk products,
  • Initial and further training of professional users,
  • Best practices of application of biocidal products,
  • Public information and awareness-raising of the risks of biocide use and possible alternatives.

Further information

A key topic of the present project is the use of biocides to protect building facades. Information for users of such biocides must also be improved. An ad hoc group of experts from research, industry, NGOs and public authorities has been founded for this purpose and developed information material. The material provides the different user groups with helpful advice on how to use facade protection coatings in an environmentally friendly way and how to avoid their use.

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 biocide  EC Directive on Biocides  wood preservative  pesticides