Banned Chemicals

I don’t have any opinion on this story:

Member states will vote on Friday on an almost complete ban on the use of neonicotinoid insecticides across the EU.

Scientific studies have linked their use to the decline of honeybees, wild bees and other pollinators.

But I will say…

Another key element that has pushed the Commission to hold a vote has been the UK’s change of heart on the use of these insecticides. Environment Secretary Michael Gove announced last November that the UK would now support further restrictions.

“I think it has helped the dynamic,” Franziska Achterberg from Greenpeace told BBC News.

“It has helped sway Ireland definitely, and then lately, the Germans, the Austrians and the Dutch. I think the fact the UK had come around was a good signal for them as well, that they could not stay behind.”

“Several countries have said they want exemptions on sugar beet for example,” said Sandra Bell from Friends of the Earth (FOE).

“So far the Commission have been very strong on this, because they say the Efsa evidence backs the extension of the ban to sugar beet and therefore they are following the science and won’t put in an exemption for a compromise.”

…any EU initiative which has the support of Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth ought to be treated with extreme caution.

Many farmers are unhappy about the proposed increase in restrictions, saying they do not believe they are warranted on scientific grounds and that the existing partial ban has not delivered results.

So we have British farmers getting up at 5am every morning to labour in the fields; and we have wealthy middle-class do-gooders sitting in climate-controlled offices in European cities banning things they find useful. Even if this ban is necessary I don’t like the setup much, mainly because it is representative of how so much of the western world is governed these days.

Which brings me onto something else. I have heard from several disparate sources that EU regulations have slowly eradicated any sort of useful household chemical, from cleaning products, to garden pesticides and weedkillers, to wood preservers. Is this true? Anyone know? I assume school caretakers no longer mark the running track with creosote, which is a shame because I liked the smell of that stuff. My dad also used to slap it on saw blades to keep them from rusting. I have no idea where he got it from, presumably you could buy it somewhere. I bet you couldn’t just go into B&Q today and buy a litre of the stuff. Not being a user of chemicals I don’t know how things have changed, but I’d be curious to know if EU regulations have removed useful products from the shelves.

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38 thoughts on “Banned Chemicals

  1. You can’t buy carbolic soap anymore. The brand that used to use coal tar now uses tea-tree oil and a carbolic fragrance. Oddly enough T-Gel shampoo still includes coal tar, even though supposedly coal tar containing products are suppose to be PO – prescription only.

  2. Creosote sadly disappeared in its original form quite some time ago and yes it was very useful stuff. Banning glyphosates was a pain as I’ve a good few acres here and domestic style weedkillers were expensive and useless, situation may have changed I believe.

  3. Creosote has been thoroughly emasculated although you can still buy stuff that calls itself “creosote substitute”.

    If you have some wood or a fence to preserve, you buy some of this stuff and you go to your local garagiste and ask him for some sump oil. You mix the two 50-50 and it does an excellent job.

    You also get the satisfaction of knowing that Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth would place you on their hit-list if they knew because this cocktail is rather more eco-unfriendly than creosote.

    Bravo EU!

  4. You might find this Wiki entry interesting, especially the end:

    The pesticides review by the European Union led to herbicides containing ammonium sulfamate becoming unlicensed, and therefore effectively banned, from 2008.[8] This situation arose as the Irish Rapporteur refused to review the data supplied unless it contained details of animal testing on dogs. As there was already substantial animal data within the package supplied the data pack holder felt further tests without substantiation would cause unnecessary animal suffering. Its licence was not withdrawn on grounds of safety or efficacy.

    Of course, you can’t legally buy a herbicide containing Ammonium sulfamate in the EU. You can though buy it as a compost accelerator, for example from Amazon:

    Just don’t trip & spill it on any weeds on your way to the compost heap. I am told it makes an excellent weedkiller, by them as knows. Much better (and cheaper) than the shop bought stuff.


  5. I read somewhere that if this ban is brought in–and from the latest news, that seems likely–farmers will have to resort to older, nastier forms of pesticides that probably have more environmental impact.
    One of the problems I have with a lot of the advocacy of banning seemingly dangerous substances is that they seem oblivious to the unexpected consequences. If crop yields drop in Europe as a result (a possible outcome) then the country may end up importing from outside the block where environmental management is less rigorously controlled than around here. So they could end up with worse outcomes than they started with. From what I understand the particular studies (hah!) on the impact of the insecticide on bee population, etc., is very mixed.

  6. It goes beyond chemicals.

    What right do they have to deny my right to buy a filament light bulb if I so wish? Or a more powerful vacuum cleaner?

    They legislate to achieve their desired ends and thus deny citizens pre-existing freedoms in the process.

  7. Pingback: Japanese knotweed can’t be cured by… the chemicals the state hasn’t yet banned – Hector Drummond

  8. I wondered the same thing on my blog today in relation to a Telegraph story on Japanese knotweed, about how some scientists have determined that it’s impossible to eradicate. What they actually meant, but didn’t spell out, was that it’s impossible to eradicate with the chemicals that haven’t been banned.

    This is an area crying out for some real journalism. Pity there’s no such thing left these days.

  9. Creosote is in fact this available however only to ‘commercial’ users – you can buy creosoted timber still for example, and you can buy drums of real creosote, usually 205 litres, though some will sell 20l drums of it. But only from more industrial supply companies, you won’t get it in B&Q. Farmers often to make their own version of creosote by mixing old engine oil with a bit of diesel and soaking their fence posts in that……….

    The real loss has been the wood treatment preservatives, as creosoted timber is more expensive. There is a wood preservative called CCA, the use of which has been severely curtailed in the EU, meaning its pointless to buy ‘treated’ timber any more, particularly for ground use, fencing etc. The posts just rot off inside about 5 years, pretty much the same as untreated timber. Technically you can still sell fence posts for agricultural purposes that have been CCA treated, but it seems most suppliers don’t bother with the paperwork involved, and just supply the ones that comply with the general rules, so practically it is banned, if not by letter of the law. On my farm I have been replacing old fences recently, I have removed some old posts that I put in 20 odd years ago that were CCA treated, they are still strong today. Others with the new treatment that I put in within the last 10 years have already rotted. I no longer buy treated timber, I buy creosoted, or now I’m buying plastic fence posts as the price has come down enough to make them competitive with timber, given they will out last me (I’m 47).

    If you are a householder getting your fence rebuilt, do not use ‘treated’ timber, especially for the posts, as the whole structure will be blown flat inside 5 or six years, and all your money wasted.Spend more on plastic or concrete posts (or creosoted if you can get them) the non-CCA treated timber will last above ground OK, and can be more easily repaired if the posts are solid.

  10. Jim,

    Interesting comments, particularly about the ground posts. Sure, if the part that’s in the soil isn’t properly treated it’ll last about 5 mins. I wonder how many people involved in banning CCA had ever whacked posts into the ground with a rubber mallet and strung barbed wire between them?

  11. One of the problems I have with a lot of the advocacy of banning seemingly dangerous substances is that they seem oblivious to the unexpected consequences.

    You’ve just described the regulatory condition of almost* the entire first world.

    *Are there some states where eco-mentalists haven’t captured the regulatory apparatus?

  12. When I was a boy Chemist shops made up their own camomile lotion and soft soap etc.

    Ask the present nitwits behind the counters and they will just look blank at you.

  13. White oil based gloss paint.- not removed but changed

    It now goes yellow within a year.

    Good gloss used not have to be redone for several years..

    Water based gloss now better than oil based, but not as good as pre-meddling gloss

  14. I thought wasps were developing Lazarus like tendencies when they recovered after a good dousing with fly spray, turns out it was because the piperonyl butoxide had been taken out. Not sure if that was due to EU regs or green pressure, either way I’ve reverted to physical methods.

  15. Here’s a tip for wooden posts,wrap the part that goes in the ground plus 75 mm above ground in Denzil tape best anti rot/corrosion preventer i have come across.

  16. I would love to know what the hell they have done to paint especially gloss i’m painting a door frame at the moment it is on it’s 4th coat it literally goes on like water and runs like it too.

  17. I thought wasps were developing Lazarus like tendencies when they recovered after a good dousing with fly spray, turns out it was because the piperonyl butoxide had been taken out.

    I once looked at the contents of a can of cockroach repellent. It contained a nerve agent which works well on insects and fish, but this represented something like 0.0075% of the contents by volume. The rest was propellant. The actual quantities of bad chemical in a lot of this stuff is probably negligible.

  18. The worst thing about it is that younger voters don’t know what they’ve lost; nor do they have any intuitive sense of what it would take to make things right.

    Consider the housing market. Young folk have become curiously accustomed to the idea that we Brits should all live in pokey hovels, and there are incessant calls upon government to intervene more, not less.

    The weedkiller and wood varnish and other things are just the same problem repeated in different domains.

    At best, young folk can see that houses are bigger and the grass is greener (literally, thanks to pesticides) in some other countries; but they’ll rarely make the link with what our governing classes are doing. At worst, they’ll rant about chlorinated chickens and refuse to believe that civil servants make work for themselves.

    The only way out is more devolution, more Brexit: including breaking out Scotland, Catalonia, and the rest. Note how the best-run polities are small: Swiss cantons, Monaco, smaller U.S. states, etc.

  19. Oh yes. One of the advantages of living outside the western hegemony is that you can buy cleaning stuff that works!

  20. Nitromors paint stripper is now safe enough to put in a sandwhich. Of course it doesn’t strip paint anymore.

  21. One of the advantages of living outside the western hegemony is that you can buy cleaning stuff that works!

    This might be because in Asia the people making the rules actually know the sort of people who do the cleaning. I doubt this is true in much of the west.

  22. @hector Drummond:

    I lived in a house facing a plot of land that was up for sale (room for a bungalow, just) and it had Japanese Knotweed growing. The woman who owned the land had desperately wanted to sell it to a builder so got her crazy — and he was crazy — uncle who was a farmer to bring his ‘dozer down and crush the Knotweed. Not the best idea as all he did was manage to spread the rhizomes round the plot and hey presto, more Knotweed swiftly sprang up.

    It got so concerning that several locals called the Environment Agency and they came to look at it, but while it is illegal to spread it other than one’s own land you can merrily spread it round what you have without penalty. No EA action followed, and the last I heard the patch of infested land remains utterly unsold.

    But that made me aware of all the places near where I used to live where people had dumped Japanese Knotweed, so there were some quite impressive thickets of the stuff, usually along public footpaths but also in fields. If farmers were spreading it round their own land, they clearly had little idea what the plant was.

    Moral of this: A ‘dozer and a dozy landowner do not help.

  23. It may be my imagination, but even the Sadolin worktop oil I use on my kitchen island doesn’t seem to last very long any more before it needs a new coat.

  24. Freon – R-22 comes to mind. I knew a guy that was in the HVAC supply business, and when they banned that he went on a rant I remember to this day. Dupont’s patent was running out, so they leaked data that got the enviromentalists in action. Low and behold, they had a solution. It’s patent is about to run out.

    Lead based paint – for boat hulls. Can’t paint them with water based.

    I can’t remember the last time I saw oil base paint in a retail hardware store. And I’ve noticed that some of the latex these days is woeful. I build and repair guitars as a hobby, as well as furniture. You have to go to specialty shops to get the finishes you need for those things. For guitars you flat out can’t use poly. It’s way to soft. And, if you are repairing an old acoustic, you have to find an equivalent finish. Usually nitro cellulose.

    That may be marketplace though. It’s been forever that I’ve seen actual varnish in anything other than a specialty shop or a mom & pop hardware. You see one, maybe two brands of polyurethane, which I’ve noticed has become nearly useless. I have no use whatsoever for the water based variety. I’ve seen my hard work denude in less than a year with them.

    That may be the utter lack of skill, and laziness, on the part of customers though. They don’t want the hassle and mess.

  25. Yeah I noticed the glyphosate ban at the time. They postponed it, so as of recently you could still buy it, but that might change at some point.

    The evidence against glyphosate at the time was spectacularly weak. Maybe that’s changed since, but it was a big part of my awakening as to how far from evidence-based regulators could be.

    I’m surprised no-one’s mentioned rat poison yet. That was also weakened and soon won’t be available to non-professionals at all.

  26. That was also weakened and soon won’t be available to non-professionals at all.

    When I was growing up my brother kept ferrets. That solved the rat problem.

  27. On the other hand, there’s not a lot of point regulating household chemicals when everyone around here had a few litres of paraquat about. My neighbor managed to kill himself a few years ago spraying upwind. Nasty stuff.

  28. I thought wasps were developing Lazarus like tendencies when they recovered after a good dousing with fly spray, turns out it was because the piperonyl butoxide had been taken out.

    It has been my experience that wasps do not survive being sprayed with petrol.

    Petrol ain’t yet banned, and is quite cheap (for the half-cup you’ll use every year on wasp’s nests)

  29. A note from my father:

    “My dad also used to slap it on saw blades to keep them from rusting.”

    “Not creosote, it was used engine oil. Will creosote prevent rust? If it won’t your readers will think me a complete berk!”

  30. This guy writes about various risk management and policy issues – this one is on neonicotinoids. Basically, the guy in charge of setting up the testing protocols was an environmental activist who wrote them so no pesticide could pass, and then watched as neonicotinoids didn’t.

  31. dcardno – Thanks. I knew I had seen that site some years ago but I couldn’t remember its name.

  32. Banning high power vacuum cleaners to reduce electricity consumption and save the world has resulted in battery powered ones which stay on low current charge 24/7 (as we say these days) instead of mains powered ones running on high current for 10 minutes every other day. Result – planet saved.
    Dyson not developing another mains powered one.

  33. It’s the EU REACH legislation has had its desired effect of course, and yes, many useful chemicals are now banned on environmental grounds. Take Ant killers. Surrey and other parts of the UK is overrun with ant colonies. Borax is very effective. It’s now banned on environmental grounds. Nippon ant powder is now pyrmethrin-based, which is practically useless of course. Ever tried getting decent household glue? Nope, volatile solvent controls means most had to be reformulated and are less effective. Laundry detergents no longer seem to get your whites white? Yep, that’s the perborate controls and environmental bans on many bleaches and bleach activators. Have you seen the damage that can occur to new car paint from bird droppings and tree resins? Yes, it’s the solvent replacement of paints by the industry. How about EU legislation on heavy metals – solder is now lead free for civilian use. Over time, lead-free solder forms ‘whiskers’ which may lead to short circuits. Still, it may increase turnover for the electronics and white goods sectors. I could go on…

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