We are now in an era of biocide treatment of everyday consumer products. More and more products are being treated with biocides to serve a specific function such as preventing the growth of bacteria and fungi or repelling insects to name but a few.
According to Pestizid Aktions Netzwerk of Germany (PAN):
“Biocides are not harmless. These are hazardous substances that are designed to damage organisms. Many also have undesired side effects that further harm human health or the environment”.
So why are companies introducing biocides into their products?
Scientifically, there are two reasons:
- To protect a product from damage caused by undesirable organisms, e.g. leather treated to prevent mould
- To create a biocidal effect for the product when it is in use rather than protection it, e.g. sports garments treated to prevent bad odours
It’s All About the Money
These companies are looking for a commercial benefit from the use of biocides. It may cost them more in the manufacturing process but these companies believe that the extra cost of the biocide addition is worth the addition. Inevitably they do pass on the cost to the consumer.
One recent example I came across was my new fridge instruction manual. I was intrigued to see that silver nanoparticles (nanoparticles control the release of biocides) were somewhere in the coating of the fridge door and which I was amazed to read is to prevent the growth of bacteria from all the hands coming in contact with it. I first presumed it was for the good of my health. But it turns out it is actually for the good of my fridge door’s health as it would not suffer “microbial degradation” over time.
Does this mean now that objects that are in our hands more often than fridge doors will be treated in a similar fashion? Items such as mobile phones, remote controls, car steering wheels, even money? Well that will depend on the governing powers. In Europe and the US, laws and directives have been put in place and are constantly being updated in order to try to control the use of biocides and nanoparticles.
The Birth of the Super Mite?
My understanding is that use of biocides and nanoparticle technology in everyday products leads to those targeted bacteria and microbes building up a resistance to the biocide additive, much as superbugs have learnt to deal with antibiotics. In that sense, these organisms actually become a greater danger to our health.
As PAN have said, we are unsure as yet what the long term effects of the use of biocides are, but the general consensus is that like antibiotics they are being overused. However, companies and manufacturers show no sign of taking their foot off the pedal on this one as yet, and it is therefore extremely important for the world’s regulatory and health authorities to keep a rein on them.
For now they have to keep advising the consumer as much as possible the need to be aware of the possible consequences of the use of biocides in products that they may buy.
A Better Solution
In the world of baby mattresses, some companies use biocides and chemicals to defeat the dust mite or other unwanted bacteria. They treat the material with a substance that they claim will kill the dust mite.
It is that word “kill” that makes me think long and hard – might it also quite possibly “kill” other, invisible to the eye important parts of the environment that we and our children inhabit? I go back to what PAN said – ‘Many also have undesired side effects that further harm human health or the environment’.
This is a chemical method to deal with the dust mite. I much prefer the physical method. Why not just stop the dust mite from getting into the core of the mattress in the first place?
There are encasement covers for mattresses that are shown to be an impenetrable barrier to the dust mite. The Pure Zees baby mattress uses such a method in its manufacture. A physical, impenetrable barrier that is waterproof, skin breathable and keeps the dust mites out – all without the addition of biocides and chemicals.
What is entirely reassuring about this is the fact that the mattress has been tested and proven for its effectiveness by the world’s oldest and leading advocacy organisation on asthma and allergies, the Asthma & Allergy Foundation of America.