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Article related to: People and perspectives
Building consumer awareness on safety
Chemicals are an essential part of our daily lives, and it is important to be aware of how to use them carefully. The 'Chemicals in our Life' section of ECHA's website offers some useful information for consumers, and national and European organisations also offer advice. ECHA Newsletter spoke about two ongoing projects with the Danish Environmental Protection Agency and the Finnish Safety and Chemicals Agency, Tukes.
Think before using biocides – The Danish example
With the introduction of the Biocidal Products Regulation (BPR) in 2013, the Danish Ministry of the Environment developed a communications and network strategy on biocides. As part of the strategy, a campaign to improve consumer awareness on biocides was launched in spring 2014. ECHA Newsletter spoke to Sonja Canger, Head of Division at the Danish Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to find out more about their 'Think!.. before you use everyday products containing poison' campaign.
The campaign directly communicates with consumers to increase their awareness of biocides. It is built on the assumption that consumers have a very low awareness of biocides; a view supported by a survey of 1 007 consumers carried out by the Danish EPA in 2013. "We saw the entry into force of the BPR as an opportunity to examine how aware the Danish general public is of biocides and the legislation," Ms Canger remarks.
The survey found that only 9 % of the respondents were able to say what a biocide is. It also showed that 77 % of the respondents were unaware that biocides can be harmful to the environment or to peoples' health if they are not used correctly.
In an effort to boost consumer knowledge, a music video; an application for smartphones, computers and tablets; and a web page with information about household products that contain biocides were produced. The campaign web page offers detailed advice to consumers on how to use biocides safely and how to dispose of them responsibly.
"The campaign, of course, offers Danish consumers a chance to increase their own awareness on biocides, but it also gives them simple tools that allow them to first assess whether there are suitable alternatives to biocides for pest control," Ms Canger says and continues, "the tools also give consumers information on how to use biocidal products safely if there are no other possible means".
The campaign encourages consumers to think before using biocides. "We want people to reassess whether they really need to use these products. Consumers should consider using alternatives, such as mousetraps instead of rodenticides. They should also learn to read the label carefully and follow its advice to make sure that the use and the dosage of the product is correct," she says.
The campaign also encourages consumers to avoid unnecessary and exaggerated use of biocidal products for disinfection. "When people clean their houses, they should only use ordinary cleaning products and not biocidal products for disinfection as this is not necessary in most situations," Ms Canger mentions as an example.
For consumers to know how to use biocidal products safely, they need to have a better understanding of what they are. "We're talking about a wide range of product-types, which can be useful in many circumstances. However, many consumers appear to be misinformed and consider them to be everyday household products, even though this is not necessarily the case. The campaign's aim is to combat this misinformation and to give consumers the tools and means to become more aware of biocidal products and how to use them safely," Ms Canger concludes.
Making homes safer for children – The Finnish example
The Finnish National Communications Plan for Dangerous Chemicals 2014-2020 was published at the start of the year. One of the plan's key target groups for chemical-related communications are families with children. To reach this audience, the Finnish Safety and Chemicals Agency, Tukes, created a guide on 'A Safe Home for a Child' in April, with an English-version of the guide recently launched. ECHA Newsletter spoke to Esa Nikunen, Director of the Chemical Products Surveillance Department at Tukes, for more information about the guide and Tukes' plans to reach consumers in the coming years.
"Families with young children are one of our most important target groups. Our main aim is to make life safer for children by raising the awareness of their parents. It is the responsibility of parents to give their children a safe environment to live in, and part of this, is for parents to familiarise themselves with the labelling of products and learn how to use them by following the instructions," Mr Nikunen remarks.
|The Finnish Safety and Chemicals Agency, Tukes, has created a guide to reach families with children. Image: Tukes.|
The guide aims to help parents to identify risks to small children in all aspects of their daily lives. It discusses the safety of products that children come into contact with regularly at home; beds; clothing; meals; toys; as well as chemicals that they are exposed to during their outdoor activities. It also gives parents practical tips on what to do to reduce their children's exposure to hazardous chemicals.
"The objects that children come into contact with each day, whether they are textiles or toys, contain different chemicals. It is the responsibility of the companies who make and sell these products to ensure that they abide by the law and make their products safe. However, parents also have a responsibility to identify potential risks. Parents need to realise that they have a huge influence on protecting their children from exposure to chemicals," Mr Nikunen insists.
As well as products that children routinely come into contact with, there are also household products stored at home, in the garden or in the garage that may be dangerous for children. "Children also often want to join in and do all the exciting things that adults do," Mr Nikunen points out. "It is important to be careful with the everyday products you find at home such as detergents for washing, paints, car-care products or hair dyes," Mr Nikunen urges.
All these everyday products can be dangerous if they are not used or handled correctly and consumers need to know that there are things that they can do to lower the risks for their families. "Consumers need to think first, and only buy items when they really need to. They can also choose to keep informed by reading the labels and instructions of use and following them. They should also only use the amount required and store the chemicals safely and away from children," Mr Nikunen concludes.
- 'Think!.. before you use everyday products containing poison'
- Campaign homepage (in Danish)
- Music video (in Danish)
- App for smartphones, computers and tablets (in Danish)
- 'A Safe Home for a Child' guide
- Survey: Exposure to chemicals worries one in five people in Finland
Interviews by Paul Trouth
Top image: Miljøministeriet
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Committee for Socio-Economic
1-4 and 8-11 June (tentative);
7-11 and 14-18 September (tentative)
Committee for Risk Assessment:
1-5 and 8-12 June;
7-11 and 14-18 September (tentative)
Member State Committee:
Biocidal Products Committee:
Management Board meeting: