Consumers' perceptions of biocidal products in households

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Biocidal products are commonly used in households and can pose a risk to human health and the environment. The aim of this study was to evaluate consumers’ use and understanding of biocidal products in order to identify starting points for minimising their exposure to these products and reducing possible emissions to the environment. In a case study, standardised questionnaires were used to interview consumers in 133 households in three neighbourhoods in Northern Germany, representing the urban–rural typologies in Europe: predominantly urban, intermediate and predominantly rural regions. The questions focussed on the comprehension of the term ‘biocide’, pest control habits, sources of information, risk perception of different product groups and possible emission reduction measures.

Only 21% of the respondents understood the term ‘biocide’ correctly, whereas 29% thought of ‘something that had to do with organic pest control’, and 28% were not able to think of a possible meaning. The risk perception of biocidal products compared to plant protection products varied depending on the living conditions. In the urban neighbourhood, biocidal products were perceived as more dangerous than in the rural area. The main pests to be fought were ants, mould and fruit fly. The results of the study indicate that there is a considerable difference between the types of biocidal products that interviewees claimed to own and those that they actually did have in their households. Most notably, respondents did not realise that they owned surface disinfectants. This result indicates that consumers often seem not to be aware of using specific biocidal products. Also, this shows the limitations of collecting data on products owned with only one method, as the results from products inventories of the households deviate from the data collected in interviews.

Our results show that the term ‘biocide’ is not fully understood by many people. To communicate possible risks of biocidal products, other terms would have to be used. Online information regarding general facts on necessary general hygiene measures and biocidal products against bacteria and insects are likely to be of highest relevance for consumers. However, risk communication for biocidal products in general is difficult because consumers are often not aware of using biocidal products. For this reason, information and awareness raising campaigns should be accompanied by further measures such as sales restrictions for specific user-groups or prohibitions of certain uses for a sustainable use of biocidal products.
Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)260-268
Number of pages9
Publication statusPublished - 03.2018