Proposal of criteria to restrict self-service sales of biocidal products

Insecticides, hand sanitiser gels, rodent baits and surface disinfectants belong to a class of products called biocides that are part of our everyday lives. In order to reduce their impact on human and animal health and the environment, the French EGAlim Act provides for a ban on self-service sales of certain products to the general public. In this context, ANSES was tasked with defining criteria to determine which categories of biocidal products deserve special attention and restrictions on access. These products would nonetheless remain available for purchase under conditions to be defined by the authorities.

Products used on a daily basis

Biocides are intended to destroy, deter or render harmless pests such as fungi, bacteria, viruses, rodents, and insects. Disinfectants containing bleach, water treatment products for swimming pools, hand sanitiser gels and mosquito repellents belong to this class of products.

Inappropriate uses leading to adverse effects

Between 2015 and 2019, French poison control centres recorded 51 serious accidents including 12 deaths associated with the use of biocidal products, in particular surface disinfectants. These accidents primarily occurred because the person handling the product (for example, a child or an elderly individual with dementia) was unaware of the risk or because the product had been transferred to a container other than its original container.

It should be noted that for some of these products, intensive use can cause the organisms they target to develop resistance, which means they can become ineffective if overused.

Regulating their use

To reduce the impact of these products on human and animal health and the environment, the French EGAlim Act (on the balance of trade relations in the agricultural and food sector and healthy, sustainable and accessible food) has prohibited advertising and promotional offers for some of them.

This Act also provides for a ban on self-service sales of certain categories of biocidal products to the general public. The products targeted by the Decree of 19 October 2019 are those for which the emergence of resistance is suspected, cases of involuntary poisoning have been reported, or there is a lack of knowledge on the rules for their use. It was in this context that ANSES was called on to propose criteria based on which self-service sales of certain categories of products could be prohibited. 

Prohibiting self-service sales of rodenticides, insecticides and antifouling products

ANSES therefore drew up an inventory of the biocidal products available on the market and their active substances, levels of resistance to these substances, and reported cases of serious poisoning.

Following its expert appraisal, ANSES is proposing the criteria set out below to determine whether self-service sales should be prohibited:

  • products containing active substances for which resistance has been identified,
  • products containing active substances for which serious accidental poisoning or deaths have been reported,
  • products containing active substances whose substitution should be encouraged,
  • products classified for their serious local effects on human health (skin corrosion, ocular effects, skin sensitisers), which is likely to lead to their use by the general public being restricted or even prohibited during the assessment of the marketing authorisation application,
  • products containing co-formulants of particular concern.

Based on these criteria, the Agency recommends discontinuing self-service sales of all rodenticides (used to control rodents), insecticides and antifouling paint for boat hulls. This would allow the general public to receive relevant information concerning the hazards and proper conditions of use of these products at the time of purchase. It would also provide an opportunity to remind consumers that these products should only be used when necessary, in strict compliance with the instructions for use.

ANSES's opinion should enable the public authorities to decide on possible restrictions on self-service sales of certain categories of biocidal products.  

Recommendations to avoid accidents

For biocidal products, like for all hazardous products, you are advised to:

  • use them only as needed;
  • strictly comply with the instructions and precautions for use;
  • keep them out of the reach of children and of adults with cognitive deficits;
  • not transfer them to containers other than the original or specially dedicated containers.