The term “biocides” has come to encompass a wide range of materials that control the growth of unwanted, deleterious microorganisms in the environment. Purification of drinking water sources, cleaning contaminated surfaces in our homes and offices, sanitizing dishes and cookware used in food preparation, sterilizing surgical instruments and treating serious wounds or simple cuts have all become part of the public trust, reinforcing the absolute need for effective biocides to support public health, safety and environmental protection.

The widespread use of biocides in construction products, however, has resulted in increased scrutiny of their inherent safety. The paint and coatings industry acknowledges the need to maintain proper safeguards when using biocides, and cites a long history of effective collaboration with government to protect public health and the environment, and ensure effective policies for biocide use that support continued availability.

Microbial attack (i.e. mould and mildew) on painted surfaces is a wide-ranging and universal concern that has resulted in a global, coordinated strategy to combat it. The participants in this effort include the companies that make biocides, paint manufacturers – who add biocides to their products, users of paints containing biocides – who have come to expect the efficacy of these products to protect the painted surface and maintain desired conditions, and the government agencies charged with protecting public health and the environment – who provide oversight and continued scrutiny of the safety and effectiveness of biocidal product use in paints and coatings.

The impact of microbial growth is not limited to degradation of applied paint films but also occurs during production and storage of paints and coatings. Increasingly, paint products have embraced waterborne technology, using formulations that are low in volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) with lower emissions during application and drying. As with most waterborne products, paints require the use of “in-can” preservatives to protect them from spoilage. Without these biocides, waterborne paints would spoil in storage. In extreme cases, the microbial decomposition can generate gases that rupture the container.

The importance of biocides use for in-can preservation and microbial attacks cannot be understated. It is a fact that over the past 75 years, market growth and public acceptance of waterborne paints and coatings has only been possible with the use of biocides. In the efforts to protect waterborne paints from microbial growth, manufacturers have enhanced plant hygiene and developed work practice controls that ensure product integrity throughout the supply chain. These efforts are part of a holistic approach to microbial control that ensures protection, but also optimizes the use of biocides to a level that is necessary to do the job.

Gratefully, regulatory agencies around the world acknowledge the need for effective biocides to use in formulating paints and coatings. A variety of legal constructs exist whereby manufactures of biocides provide detailed information on product safety and toxicology, efficacy in microbial control, and required formulation and use controls. This information is used by government scientists to determine if the proposed biocide can be safely used as proposed.

Additional specialized uses of biocides in certain paints and coatings are critical to the protection of the substrates to which they are applied. Wood preservative materials are used to suspend the growth of microorganisms and other lifeforms that are associated with the destruction of wood and wood structures. Marine and offshore protective coatings are used to reduce the growth of marine microorganism and associated biofilms that degrade vessels and steel structures and slow their propulsion through the water. Both uses are highly regulated and face increased and stringent regulatory controls whereby end-users, paint manufacturers, and the producers of the biocides (i.e. active ingredients) work closely with government agencies to ensure safe use and supports new ideas that help advance consumer protection and reinforce safe use of biocides in paints and coatings.