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VOC Solvents Directive

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Title: Council Directive 1999/13/EC of 11 March 1999 on the limitation of emissions of volatile organic compounds due to the use of organic solvents in certain activities and installations

1. Issued by / date / date of implementation

European Union / 29 March 1999 / April 2001

2. Type of legislation

European Union Directive, to be implemented by all EU Member States by their own means

3. General purpose

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 and the potential risks to human health.

The Directive applies to the following 20 activities, including their sub-processes/associated activities, in so far as the amount of solvents are above the defined threshold limits:

  1. VOC Guide Heatset-Rollenoffset
  2. VOC Guide Publication rotogravure
  3. VOC Guide Other rotogravure, flexography, rotary screen printing, laminating or varnishing units, screen printing on textile/cardboard
  4. VOC Guide Surface cleaning using substances with R40, R45, R46, R49, R60, R61 0r R68
  5. VOC Guide Other surface cleaning
  6. VOC Guide Vehicle coating and vehicle refinishing
  7. VOC Guide Coil coating
  8. VOC Guide Other coating, including metal, plastic, textile, fabric, film and paper coating
  9. VOC Guide Winding wire coating
  10. VOC Guide Coating of wooden surfaces
  11. VOC Guide Dry cleaning
  12. VOC Guide Wood impregnation
  13. VOC Guide Coating of leather
  14. VOC Guide Footwear manufacture
  15. VOC Guide Wood and plastic lamination
  16. VOC Guide Adhesive coating
  17. VOC Guide Manufacture of coating preparations, varnishes, inks and adhesives
  18. VOC Guide Rubber conversion
  19. VOC Guide Vegetable oil & animal fat extraction and vegetable oil refining activities
  20. VOC Guide Manufacturing of pharmaceutical products

Further general documents

Installations that fall under the Directive must register or apply for a permit for VOC emissions (in waste gases and fugitive) and must prepare solvent mass balances as well as emission reduction schemes. For VOCs that are classified as Carc 1 or 2, specific limit values are valid and substitution is presented as an ultimate objective. Further provisions deal with companies’ reporting duties concerning relevant data and providing public access to information.

4. Substitution relevant paragraphs

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 H phrases H340, H350, H360 (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 of facilities and in the 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. These Guidances should be based on information Member States are encouraged to exchange mutually and with the Commission. Several guides for activities that fall under the Directive have been published and are available online (see point 7.1).

5. Assessment of relevance for substitution

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 of facilities 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 must identify whether there are general binding rules on the use of VOCs that might affect their activity or if there are special requirements in the authorization of facilities which would oblige them to implement measures. They  also must 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, on medium and long term, substitution would be a more effective solution.

Besides the legal importance for substitution, the Directive has contributed to the generation of an important number of technical guidance documents 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.

6. Link to the legal text

7. Further information

7.1 Studies or publications about the legislation or its impact

  • Guidance on VOC substitution for 20 activities under the Directive may be found in the list of section 3.
  • Report on the Directive implementation 2005-2007 may be found here.
  • Reports from the EU memberstates on the implementation of the directive between 2008-2010 are accessible here.

7.2 Other relevant legislation

In 2004, the “(Deco)Paint directive” (2004/42/EC) was published which amended the VOC directive. The new directive regulates the emissions for specified paints and coatings.

Last update: 24.06.2019

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