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EU to Ban Iodine for Disinfecting Water

From a June 16th SteriPen press release:

The European Union (EU) has announced that iodine will no longer be sold or supplied for use in disinfecting drinking water after October 25, 2009. This announcement directly impacts all 27 countries in the EU and can potentially set global precedents regarding the safety of using chemical-based water treatment products.

Using iodine to disinfect drinking water is a long-standing practice throughout the world, routinely used by outdoor enthusiasts, travelers, military personnel, disaster survivors and emergency respondents. When used for short periods, and with the correct dosage, it has been considered safe. However, the U.S. Center for Disease Control advises against consuming iodinated water for more than a few weeks. Pregnant women, those with a history of thyroid disease, and those allergic to iodine should not drink iodinated water.

More information about the new EU Directive is available at:


The listing is 63 pages long! Some of the items listed to be (or already are) banned is interesting. The first item under Part 5, Drinking Water Disinfectants, is ethyl alcohol! Ummm, somehow I don't remember that just adding whiskey to the water disinfects it, and I know of people (my in-laws, for example) who have gotten very ill from the ice cubes made from unsanitary water that were used in their Scotch in India. Sodium chloride as a disinfectant? That's plain old table salt. How about garlic extract?

Somehow, I think there has been a bit of misinterpretation of the "ban". Surely table salt, ethanol (alcoholic drinks), and garlic extract are not banned from sale. The actual statement is that "biocidal products" containing the listed substances will be removed from the market. This would seem to mean that the substances themselves will still be available. I also note that several substances in widespread use in municipal water systems are included in the list.

I notice that boric acid is listed under insecticides as a banned substance. Yet, as boric acid powder, this is an extremely effective way of ridding your house of many critters, while being harmless to humans.

Under Repellants and Attractants, I see silicon dioxide. This is just pure quartz, seen as sand and glass, and used as a flow agent in a number of food products. We are surrounded by SiO2 as a normal part of the makeup of the Earth. Do they propose to remove it (in which case, a large fraction of the planet will be removed - to where? Outer space?).

Juniper and chrysanthemums are also banned (page 57).

Something does not sound correct in this document.

A bit off topic but my secret weapon agains ants, the little tiny pesky black ones; borax mixed with a bit of confectioners sugar. They take it back to the collony and it poisons all the ants, not just the ones you see. The sprays kill what you see which is probably not even a 10th of what is lurking behind the walls and under the ground. The borax does the trick. It takes about a week for all the ants to disapear.

I am investigating further...

Well, I think it's still a bit murky, if only because there seems to be no other info out there, or info on what the phase-out actually means for companies and consumers.

But, here's what I have been told, courtesy of the SteriPen PR folks:

1. SteriPen's original source on this action was one of their EU distributors who learned about it from a buyer at a large UK outdoor retailer who was getting ready to pull iodine products from shelves for compliance on 10/25/2009.

2. The site, where the PDF is listed at (see page 22), is legitimate and registered to "European Commission” in Brussels.

FYI, "the European Commission (formally the Commission of the European Communities) is the executive branch of the European Union. The body is responsible for proposing legislation, implementing decisions, upholding the Union's treaties and the general day-to-day running of the Union." (according to Wikipedia)

Even if iodine is being pulled off water-disinfectant shelves in the EU, it may have no impact on the U.S., unless you travel abroad and can't buy what you planned.

So, have any of our European community members heard more about this? Please shed some more light.

The EU and several of the individual countries have long been more safety conscious than the US, even to the point of banning products that weren't all that risky. At the same time, they still have lots of roads with no speed limits. A couple of the Scandinavian countries ban compressed gas stoves and lanterns, even though Primus is a Swedish company. They first banned the puncture canisters that Camping Gaz (Bleuet) made (a French company, so one might suspect protective barriers), then all compressed gas stoves for personal use. The EU is much more adamant about GM foods than the US.

So I would not be surprised at the banning of a number of the products in the list. What is curious, though, is that many of the substances listed, as I noted above, are present in many foods (such as the ethanol, which is after all the alcohol in wine, beer, and distilled spirits). So it is not clear if this is a banning of products being sold for a particular purpose. That is, if iodine is being banned as a water disinfectant (plus the several other uses listed), but not for other purposes, and same for the ethanol, sodium chloride, silicon dioxide, and a number of the other common substances.

The question, then, for our EU members is, is the ban intended to stop certain usages, or is it, as it supericially appears, a ban on all uses of the listed substances?

So it is not clear if this is a banning of products being sold for a particular purpose. That is, if iodine is being banned as a water disinfectant (plus the several other uses listed), but not for other purposes, and same for the ethanol, sodium chloride, silicon dioxide, and a number of the other common substances.

The question, then, for our EU members is, is the ban intended to stop certain usages, or is it, as it supericially appears, a ban on all uses of the listed substances?

I read it as the substances were being phased out/banned for the mentioned usage. So, on page 22, iodine is one of the chemicals being banned for use as "Drinking water disinfectants" and will "no longer be placed on the market for the relevant product-types."

So, you won't be able to buy iodine that's sold to disinfect water.

Okay, here is more info about this story, via SNEWS, the outdoor industry trade publication.

Usually I don't cut and paste other publications in full, but since they're subscriber-only and this is important info, I'm going to do so:

EU iodine ban worries -- SNEWS provides the facts

Posted on 06/26/2009

On June 12 on its own website, and then on June 17 on the SNEWS® website, Steripen posted a news release with the headline, "European Union to Ban Iodine for Use in Disinfecting Drinking Water." (Click here to read.)

In that release, Steripen stated, "This announcement directly impacts all 27 countries in the EU and can potentially set global precedents regarding the safety of using chemical-based water treatment products."

It did not take long for SNEWS to begin getting calls and emails wondering about the news and what, if any, impacts this decision might have upon U.S. sales of iodine-based, water-purification products or other chemical treatments.

First, a point of clarification: The likelihood of iodine sales being banned in the United States is infinitesimal. Both the World Health Organization and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) endorse iodine for short-term or emergency use in treating water. In addition, Katadyn produces purifier bottles with filter cartridges that contain iodinated resin and meet EPA protocol and have EPA registration. Potable Aqua also has EPA registration. In addition, there is simply no way that an EU decision sets any kind of global precedent regarding the safety of using other types of chemical-based, water-treatment products, such as chlorine dioxide…but more on that later.

This is NOT a new issue. In 1998, the EU commission issued Directive 98/8/EC, which would eventually contain a list of active substances agreed for inclusion in biocidal products approved for sale in the EU, and published in the Directive Annexes I, IA and IB. This list was originally blank and had to be progressively filled by the Commission in collaboration with a Standing Committee on Biocidal Products.

In 2007, Commission Regulation 1451/2007 -- created in large part because so many products were not being brought forward for testing and evaluation as had been hoped, we were told -- established a broad evaluation procedure on a wide range of substances, including iodine. The results of these tests ultimately served as the basis for inclusion or non-inclusion in the Annexes of Directive 98/8/EC. Tests on iodine were specifically carried out by Sweden, which was designated as "Rapporteur Member State (RMS)" on this substance.

As a result of the findings, the European Commission decided not to include iodine in the list of agreed/authorized substances of Annexes I, IA or IB, and this decision was published in the Official Journal of the European Union in October 2008.

Since that decision, there has been quite a bit of discussion around the entire testing and evaluation process, and the manner in which the decisions to include or not include a substance were made. As a result, the Commission has since repealed the original Directive.

In an official statement, the Commission wrote, "On 12 June 2009, the European Commission adopted a proposal for a Regulation concerning the placing on the market and use of biocidal products (COM(2009)267). The proposed Regulation will repeal and replace the current Directive 98/8/EC concerning the placing of biocidal products on the market." (Click here to read.)

The Commission continued, "The objective of the proposal for a Regulation concerning the placing on the market and use of biocidal products (COM(2009)267) is to improve the functioning of the internal market in biocidal products while maintaining the high level of the environmental and human health protection. The proposal will build on the principles laid down in Directive 98/8/EC, in particular the two-tier authorization process: firstly, the inclusion of the active substance in Annex I and secondly, the authorization of the biocidal product. The proposed regulation is scheduled to enter into force on 1 January 2013."

What does this mean, really? Insiders indicate to us that it is likely that iodine will eventually be banned, as it is also unlikely that anyone will step up to pay for necessary testing and evaluation. Why? Because iodine for water treatment is considered very archaic chemical technology with huge limitations -- namely short shelf life, it does not kill cryptosporidium, it will not kill viruses, and it is only recommended for short-term use and never by anyone with a thyroid condition, or a woman who is pregnant. In addition, sales of iodine products (Potable Aqua or filters containing iodine resin) in Europe are paltry at best.

So what is the preferred chemical of choice? Chlorine dioxide as it is effective in neutralizing viruses, bacteria, giardia and cryptosporidium, has a relatively long shelf life, and it tastes so much better. It also has none of the health risks associated with iodine, and it has long been used by municipalities in the United States and Europe for purifying water. Both Katadyn and Wisconsin Pharmacal manufacture and sell chlorine dioxide tablets here in the United States, as well as in Europe.

When SNEWS asked Doug Gourley, vice president of international for Steripen, about why, in its release, it stated that the EU decision specifically regarding iodine might set a global precedent regarding chemical safety, he responded, "We did not mean in any way to impugn anyone or any chlorine-based product by that statement."

As for what Steripen proclaimed regarding its water purification performance, naturally, since this was a news release, the company offered up a quote from its president, Ed Volkwein, who stated, "I expect that in time the USA, and possibly other countries around the world, may consider similar action to what is stipulated in the EU directive. At Hydro-Photon we're pleased to be part of a solution -- our SteriPEN UV portable water purifiers ( destroy viruses, bacteria and protozoan microbes in just seconds without the use of chemicals."

True enough, but a point of clarification as long as we are keeping it real here. UV works fantastically and quickly against viruses, bacteria, giardia, cryptosporidium and a whole host of other waterborne nasties -- with a caveat. The water must be visually clear. Turbidity in water -- silt, debris, ice, etc. -- can affect the ability of the UV treatment to work its magic. So, you have to pre-filter. Not that big a deal, but worth noting.
--Michael Hodgson

SNEWS® View: UV treatment of water is fast and easy. Steripen was first onto the block, but is now joined by CamelBak touting its own UV treatment program, complete with a bottle. We love UV for its simplicity and ease-of-use when traveling. But, like with a filter, it does add bulk and if it ever stops working for any reason (out of batteries, electronics go bad), you're SOL unless you have some chemical treatment along as a backup. Which is why when we're going light and fast where we don't want to be bothered with worrying about water turbidity, we're packing only chlorine dioxide or an MSR Miox, or a bottle or hydration reservoir with a built-in filter. And in all cases, mostly travel, if we're toting the Steripen, we're packing a few chlorine dioxide tabs as a backup.In an emergency situation, though, when you are facing untreated water because of a disaster, keep in mind you need to think not just about viruses, bacteria and protozoa, but also chemical contaminants. And for that, UV or chemical treatments won't get the job done. For that kind of situation, you need a filter, one that is rated to remove chemicals through a process known as adsorbing -- typically with activated carbon.

What, if anything, is there to learn from the Steripen release? We hope anyone reading this realizes that it is important to keep it very real with any news release. Stick to facts and not speculation. And don't throw competitors under the bus, even if by implication through a vague statement like those made when questioning the safety of all chemical water treatments. We get that Steripen loves its product and thinks it's the cat's meow. Heck, we think it's a great product, too. But, questioning the potential safety of chemical water-treatment systems in a press release simply because Steripen officials read about a ban on the sale of iodine by the EU served no purpose, other than to cause unnecessary worry for some, and frustration and anger for others. UV has its place. So does chlorine dioxide. And so do filters and filter purifiers. Enough said.

And in the future, we’d advise that any company seeking to promote itself doesn’t look to use a news release to tout a product while tossing a barb out in the direction of others. Like a fishhook whipping about in the wind, you might end up hooking more than you bargained for.
--SNEWS® Editors

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