Biocides: introduction to regulation, supply and use

A biocide is a chemical substance, mixture, or microorganism intended to control any harmful organism in a way that is not purely physical or mechanical.

Biocidal products

Biocidal products are used to protect people and animals, preserve goods, stop pests like insects or rodents and control viruses, bacteria and fungi through a chemical or biological action. Common examples are disinfectants, wood preservatives and insect repellents.

Typically a biocidal product will be a mixture of chemicals and will include the 'active substance'. The active substance has the controlling effect on the harmful organism.

Biocidal products can also be:

  • 100% active substance with no other components
  • articles that have been impregnated with the active substance, such as disinfecting wipes
  • bacteria, viruses or other micro-organisms

Biocidal products without an active substance

The active substance could be created when the product is used, either from:

  • mixing the product with another chemical
  • a reaction with the air or moisture

This is called 'in-situ generation'. It’s still covered by the law, even if no products are supplied and the biocide is generated from everyday things. For example, when a machine generates ozone from oxygen in the air to be used as a disinfectant.

Treated articles

A treated article is something which has been treated with, or intentionally includes, one or more biocidal products; for example wood that has been treated with a preservative to protect it from decay, is known as a treated article.

Biocides law

Biocidal products are controlled in:

  • Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales) under the GB Biocidal Products Regulation (GB BPR)
  • Northern Ireland under the EU Biocidal Products Regulation (EU BPR)

These regulations make sure that when biocidal products are used properly, they do not harm people, pets or the wider environment.

Some types of biocidal product have other more specific legislation that applies to them in the UK. For example, pesticides, human medicines, medical devices, veterinary medicines and cosmetics.

Importing or making a biocidal product available on the market

Making available on the market means any supply of a biocidal product, whether in return for payment or free of charge, at all stages of the supply chain. Some examples of this could include:

  • manufacturer to distributor
  • distributor to retail store
  • retail store to user

If you want to import or make a biocidal product available on the market in Great Britain or Northern Ireland the biocidal product must comply with the relevant regulations.

A biocidal product must be authorised before it can be made available on the market. Before the product can be authorised, the active substance or substances it contains or generates must be approved for use in that product type.

Using biocidal products

If you use biocides in your workplace or home you’re responsible for using them correctly so they do not cause harm to people, pets, the environment or wildlife.

Reporting an incident or exposure

If a person, animal or the environment is affected by exposure to a biocide:

  1. seek medical or veterinary advice
  2. report it to the appropriate authorities

Further help

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Updated 2021-11-18