Last reviewed 16 December 2019
This article looks at the restrictions on the sale of various types of “poisons”, according to the provisions of the Poisons Act 1972 and subordinate legislation.
Under the Poisons Act 1972, the term “poison” is not defined but merely refers to substances listed in the Poisons List Order 1982 (SI 1982 No. 217), as amended by the Poisons List (Amendment) Order 1986 (SI 1986 No. 9) and the Poisons List (Amendment) Order 1992 (SI 1992 No. 2292).
The List contains two types of poisons, referred to as "Part I" and "Part II" poisons.
Part I contains substances such as:
arsenic; its compounds (other than calcium arsenites, copper acetoarsenite, copper arsenates, copper arsenites, lead arsenates)
barium salts (other than barium sulphate, barium carbonate and barium silicofluoride)
fluoroacetic acid; its salts; fluoroacetamide
hydrogen cyanide; metal cyanides (other than ferrocyanides and ferricyanides)
lead acetates; compounds of lead with acids from fixed oils
Mercury and its compounds (including: nitrates of mercury; oxides of mercury; mercuric cyanide oxides; mercuric thiocyanate; ammonium mercuric chlorides; potassium mercuric iodides; organic compounds of mercury which contain a methyl group directly linked to the mercury atom)
oxalic acid 10% w/w
phenols (phenol; phenolic isomers of the following: cresols, xylenols, monoethylphenols); compounds of phenols with a metal, 60% w/w of phenols or, for compounds of phenols with a metal, the equivalent of 60% w/w of phenols
strychnine; its salts; its quaternary compounds
Under the Act, only a registered pharmacist is permitted to sell "Part I" poisons. A member of the public must show their valid EPP licence and associated photo ID document before you can supply any regulated chemicals.
Part II of the Poisons List is longer and for brevity, will not be reproduced in full. However it includes a number of common substances as indicated below.
Nicotine; its salts; its quaternary compounds.
Paraquat, salts of.
Products of particular interest are those in which a reportable chemical is either:
present on its own or the main ingredient
present in a simple mixture (typically less than 5 ingredients)
The Poisons Rules
Under the Poisons Rules (SI 1982 No. 218), there are many detailed requirements relating to the sale of poisons, which depend upon the type of poison being sold. They can include the following.
Labelling of the container
This includes requirements for:
the name of the seller and address of the premises where the poison is sold (and this must be made clear where the container also has the supplier’s name and address), although this may be restricted to the outer covering in which the poison is supplied
the name of the poison as it is described in the Poisons List
the word “POISON” on either a separate label or within a rectangular frame within a larger label
mixtures, or preparations as they are still known under the Poisons Rules; the percentage of the poison has to be shown and whether it is weight/weight, weight/volume or volume/volume
all bottles of liquids of less than 3 litres to be labelled “Not to be taken”
all mixtures containing potassium hydroxide or sodium hydroxide to be labelled “Caution. This substance is caustic”.
The above labelling is additional to anything that may be required under the EU Regulation (EC) No. 1272/2008 on classification, labelling and packaging of substances and mixtures (CLP).
Suitability of the container
Containers shall be impervious to the poison and sufficiently stout to prevent leakage due to the ordinary risks of handling, and liquid bottles of less than 1.14 litres shall be fluted vertically with ribs or grooves.
The safe storage of the poisons
Poisons must be kept in an impervious, suitably strong container and must, in the case of those listed in Schedule 1 (which includes both Part I and many Part II listed poisons) be stored:
in a cupboard or drawer reserved solely for poisons
partitioned off or separated part of the premises to which customers do not have access, or
on a shelf reserved for poisons and with no food being stored thereunder.
Special rules are applicable to the poisons for use in agriculture, horticulture and forestry.
Transport of poisons
They must be transported in sufficiently strong containers and the outside package must be labelled conspicuously with the name of the poison and a notice indicating that it must be kept separate from food and empty containers which had contained food. The person transporting the poison must ensure that it is kept effectively separated from any food.
Of course, where applicable, the Carriage of Dangerous Goods and Transportable Pressure Equipment Regulations 2009 (SI 2009 No. 1345) (CDG2009) (as amended) rules apply.
Persons who may sell poisons
In general, anyone wishing to sell "Part II" poisons must register their name and the address of their business premises with their local Trading Standards Service. They must however, only sell them in the form in which they were supplied by the manufacturer or wholesaler. Those substances listed in Schedule I may only be sold by the shopkeeper, or by a “responsible deputy”, who must be named on the application for registration, or later in writing. No more than two deputies are permitted at any one time for a set of premises.
Persons to whom poisons may be sold
Part I poisons may only be sold to those conducting a retail pharmacy, or to those providing a signed statement that they are not intending to sell the poison on any premises used for, or in connection with, a retail business. There are no special restrictions on Part II poisons.
Recording details of sales in a "Poisons Book"
Sales of certain Part II poisons, such a aldicarb and paraquat, which can only be sold by the listed seller or one of their deputies must be recorded in a Poisons Book , but for many others, no recording of the sale is required.
The rules provide for many total exemptions from the provisions when the poisonous substances are incorporated into certain mixtures such as:
adhesives and glues
enamels and glazes
explosives and fireworks
paints, inks, varnishes and lacquer solvent
motor fuels and lubricants
medicated animal feed
pigments and plastics
The rules also provide for exemption of certain mixtures when the concentration of the poison is restricted.
nicotine is exempted when in liquid or solid mixtures containing more than 7.5% (a level at which the mixture is still classifiable as Acutely Toxic under CLP)
HCl is exempted from poisons control at <10% (where it will generally only be classifiable as a metal corrosive under CLP from about 0.2%).
In this brief article, we have tried to highlight the requirements of this rather old UK specific legislation, which is still in force and should be consulted for the full details. These requirements are of course additional to any restrictions applicable under Regulation (EC) No. 1907/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 18 December 2006 concerning the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH).