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Silver and Copper Ionisation Systems Ban

From the 1st of February 2013 it will be illegal to sell or use water treatment systems that use elemental copper in order to add copper ions to water as a biocide. This effectively puts an end to the use of silver/copper ionisation systems, meaning that many current users of the systems should seek alternative technologies.

The competent authority for the Biocidal Products Directive in the UK is the HSE.

The following link provides in depth information from the HSE website about the systems, much of which is summarised below:

Essentially the use of elemental copper as a biocide was not supported by industry through the approval process required by the Biocidal Products Directive. The review period ended in September 2011 and a phase out period was specified which ends on the 1st of February 2013.

Whilst it will become illegal to use these systems the HSE has specified that their priority is that legionella control is not compromised. The HSE state that they and Local Authorities will “take a sensible and proportionate approach if they come across these systems.” In practice they will seek to establish that reasonable steps are being taken to consider alternative systems of control.

The HSE will not be making specific enforcement visits in relation to these systems, although they may well do so if their use is reported. They may also notice the use of the systems during site visits that have other primary purposes.

There is also an appeal over the ban for these systems. It is clear now the result of the appeal will not be determined by the 1st of February 2013, meaning there will definitely be a period for which their use will be illegal. The HSE has stated that they will take the latest status in relation to this appeal into account when they come across copper ionisation systems after the deadline date. The outcome of the appeal is uncertain, but there have been several opportunities to support the technology.

Clearwater Technology withdrew from this market some time ago when it became clear that it would not be supported under the BPD.

Continuing Suppliers of silver/copper ionisation systems have put forward the following opinions:

One option to ensure compliance is to remove the copper electrode and only use silver - Whilst this may have some biocidal effect, the use of silver alone is not mentioned in ACOP L8.  There is also doubt surrounding the legislative position regarding the use of silver ions; strict limitations already apply to the use of silver in silver-peroxide products and it is uncertain whether the use of silver will continue to be supported through the biocidal products directive.

Some suppliers of silver/copper ionisation systems have suggested that the continued use of copper ions could be justified for non-biocidal means, such as re-conditioning pipework or scale control. This would appear to be an extremely precarious position to take given the reasons for which the systems were initially sold.

It appears that the use of the systems will definitely be illegal for at least a short while after the 1st February 2013, perhaps indefinitely. At this point, the clients must be able to show that they have taken steps to ensure compliance whilst also ensuring that legionella control is not compromised. It seems that a strong case could be made for switching to an alternate technology such as chlorine dioxide, wherever practicable. It is estimated that there are 2000 installations in the UK.

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