European Union / 29 March 1999 / April 2001
European Union Directive, to be implemented by all EU Member States by their own means
Volatile organic compounds (VOC) emissions into the air contribute to atmospheric reactions that generate pollutants which may affect the environment and under certain exposure conditions, may have harmful effects on human health.
The purpose of the Directive is to prevent or reduce direct and indirect effects of volatile organic compounds emissions into the environment, mainly into air and the potential risks to human health.
The Directive applies to the following 15 activities, defined as for their sub-processes/associated activities/exempted activities, in so far as they are operated above the solvent consumption thresholds set by it:
For installations that fall under the Directive, it provides requirements related to the registration or authorisation, limit values for VOC emissions (in waste gases and fugitive), emission reduction schemes and national plans, substitution of hazardous substances. It has also provisions on reporting relevant data and public access to information.
In point 6 of Article 5 is stated that hazardous substances or preparations likely to have a serious effect on human health shall be replaced, as far as possible, with less harmful ones “within the shortest possible time”. The substances and preparations in question carry the risk phrases R45, R46, R49, R60, R61 (Directive 67/548/EEC) because of their content of volatiles with long term effects (carcinogens, mutagens, or toxic to reproduction).
Article 7 is entirely dedicated to substitution. According to it, Member States should consider substitution in the process of authorization and formulation of general binding rules applicable at national level. In doing so they should take into account the guidance provided by the EU Commission on the use of substances and techniques which have the least potential negative effects on human health and the environment. Guidance is based on information that the Member States are encouraged to exchange between them and with the Commission. Several guides for activities that fall under the Directive have been published and are available online (see point 7.1).
Substitution is considered the first option in preventing VOC emissions and a special attention is paid to the substitution of carcinogens, mutagens and toxic to reproduction when used as such or in preparations. Other technical measures to reduce emissions should be taken only ‘where appropriate substitutes are not available’.
Member states should consider substitution in two important processes: authorization and setting binding rules, therefore the use of safer substitutes may be mandatory in some specific cases or may become so, due to technical progress or stricter environmental policies at national level.
Enterprises would need to identify whether there are any national binding rules on the use of VOCs that might affect their activity or if there are special requirements in the authorization and take measures to comply with them. They would also need to evaluate if ‘end of pipe’ pollution reduction systems allow them to comply with the limits for emission values stated by the Directive at a reasonable cost or if substitution would be a more effective solution, on medium and long term.
Besides the legal importance for substitution the Directive has contributed to the generation of an important number of technical guidance for substitution in activities to which it applies.
The amendment of its content by Directive 2004/42/EC regarding VOC in paints does not affect the provisions regarding substitution.
Last update: 18.11.2010