VOCsThe paint industry is doing its bit to improve health and the environment through the introduction of new European Union-based legislation which lowers the amount of VOC pollution (Volatile Organic Compounds) in paints, stains and varnishes. The VOCs in paints, Varnishes, and Vehicle Refinishing Regulations (known in short as VOC 2010) means that the manufacture of non-compliant products stopped on 1st January 2010 and the sale of these products on 1st January 2011. Products are divided into different categories (matt, gloss, primer and so on) and different upper limits for VOCs laid down for each group. And within the group, the limits differ for solvent and water-based products. This is to make sure that the product still does what it says on the tin.  When shopping for DIY, look for the label 'VOC 2010 compliant' on your paint, stain or varnish to be sure. Otherwise, if you hire a firm to paint for you, make sure they confirm that the paint complies with the VOC 2010.

Paint accounts for less than 1% of all UK VOC emissions. In fact, VOCs are found in a wide range of DIY and cleaning products. They are small carbon-containing molecules which readily evaporate from products containing them (a process is known as 'out-gassing'), so they form part of the gaseous component of indoor air pollution. Outdoors, VOCs are produced by car exhausts and can react with nitrogen oxides (also from car exhausts) to produce ground-level ozone, a powerful pollutant and the main component of photochemical smog. VOCs have also been implicated in global warming.

Most VOCs are synthetic, but a few are naturally occurring, like the strong-smelling odours given off by a peeled onion or an orange. VOCs are irritants, rather than true allergens, and may provoke symptoms like sneezing, wheezing, watery eyes, and tight chest among people with allergies. Formaldehyde, a common VOC, is a known carcinogen. Exposure to VOCs is also a particular problem for people with Multiple Chemical Sensitivities.

Here are the most common possible sources of VOCs:

  • Paints
  • Varnishes
  • Adhesives
  • Cleaning products
  • Board-based furniture, flooring boards
  • New carpets
  • Toiletries
  • Air fresheners
  • Dry-cleaned garments
  • Non-iron/easy-care/crease-resistant fabrics

It is good to know that VOC levels in products will be coming down thanks to this new legislation. There are also measures you can take to reduce the VOC burden in your home or place of work. Ventilation is an important step in stopping levels from building up indoors, but during the winter time, it becomes difficult to ventilate as much as you might like to.  If you have to control VOCs levels, the only effective solution will be to use an appropriate air cleaner fitted with adsorbent filters designed to remove gaseous and odour pollution from the air. The leading Swiss manufacturer of commercial air cleaners offers a unit that is specially designed to filter VOCs out of the air - it is the IQAir GCX VOC.

In fact, VOC 2010 doesn't apply to the consumer. If you have stocks of non-compliant paint, stain or varnish, you can use them up during 2011 and beyond. But, having read the above, would you really want to?