EU Cuts Smog Forming Compounds in Paints, Varnishes

BRUSSELS, Belgium, January 15, 2003 (ENS) - To help solve one of Europe's most serious air quality problems, the European Commission has presented a new proposal to reduce the content of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in decorative paints and varnishes by about 50 percent, or 280,000 metric tons, per year. These compounds contribute to the formation of ground level ozone, or smog, which is one of the big remaining air quality problems in the European Union.

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Vehicle refinishing paints will be covered by the new regulations. (Photo courtesy Standox)
When highly concentrated in air, ground level ozone can impair human health and can damage forests, vegetation and crops, reducing yields. Data submitted by the 15 Member States to the Commission indicate that during the summer months the threshold level for the protection of human health is exceeded in all the Member States. In urban environments, more than 40 million people are estimated to be exposed to potentially harmful concentrations of smog.

The new proposal will for the first time set standard limits on solvent content in paints, varnishes and vehicle refinishing products across the European Union. The regulations are set to come into effect in two phases - 2007 and 2010.

Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom said, "The Commission is committed to clean up the air that Europeans breathe, and this is part of our efforts to deliver what we have promised. Our proposal will help improve the health of citizens across the EU. It will provide Member States with a new tool to comply with the requirements to limit national emissions that they have signed up to."

As a result of smog, sensitive people experience eye irritation, sore throats and respiratory problems. In the environment, the compounds in smog affect photosynthesis, producing lesions and decoloration of leaves, and adversely affecting the yield of certain crops.

The proposal would place a limitation on the content of VOCs in decorative paints and varnishes, and vehicle refinishing products. The proposal covers products such as wall paints or those applied on woods and metals at home.

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Paints (Photo courtesy Freefoto)
The two phase approach is intended to give the affected industrial sectors adequate time to adapt without compromising the long term environmental benefits. The first phase, which places limits on these emissions, will apply from January 1, 2007 while the second set of stricter limits will apply from January 1, 2010.

For vehicle refinishing products, there will be only one phase, which will apply from January 1, 2007.

Estimated benefits for the whole EU after phase II in terms of improved air quality are over 580 million per year, whereas costs have been estimated to range from 108 to 157 million per year.

Due to its transboundary nature, no EU Member State can completely control exposure to ground level ozone. Product oriented legislation that extends across the entire bloc offers the best opportunity to limit VOC emissions, the Commission said.

After prolonged and difficult negotiations in the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament, Member States were able to commit to national emission ceilings for 2010, which give a combined European Union ceiling of 6.5 million metric tons of VOC emissions per year.

Member States highlighted the difficulty of reducing VOC emissions and asked the Commission to come up with further proposals in this area, in particular concerning the VOC content of products.