Volatile organic compounds (VOC) constitute a wide-ranging category of products found in gaseous state or easily evaporated under normal temperature and pressure conditions (20°C and 105 Pa), such as benzene, acetone, perchloroethylene etc.
These are ozone precursor pollutants and some of them are considered human carcinogens. Benzene has been classified as carcinogenic (group 1) by the IARC (international agency for research on cancer) since 1987. 1,3-Butadiene and perchloroethylene are classified in group 2A (probably carcinogenic to humans). Styrene belongs to group 2B (potentially carcinogenic).
VOC emissions are mostly the result of combustion and the use of solvents, degreasing agents, preservatives... and are therefore generated by numerous sources. According to data provided by CITEPA (interprofessional technical centre for air pollution studies), 29% of emissions come from the use of solvents (for household, construction and industrial use), 25% from road transport and 21% from natural sources. CITEPA estimates that in 2002, total VOC emissions in France were around 1.6 million tons. Emissions have been decreasing steadily in the last 10 years, by 3 to 4% each year.
France has an international commitment, as part of the GÖTEBORG protocol, to reduce its VOC emissions by approximately 40% between 1999 and 2010. This commitment was reiterated in the directive of 23 October 2001 establishing national emission ceilings for certain air pollutants, which imposes a limit upon VOC emissions to be complied with in 2010 (1,050,000 tons). A study carried out by CITEPA shows that this ceiling should be complied with in 2010, given the regulatory measures already in place, provided these measures are fully enforced.
Since 2001, the reduction in VOC emissions has been the focus of a nation-wide action by the Inspectorate of classified installations. This action aims at identifying the main industrial emitters (emissions of over 30 tons per year) and implementing sizeable reductions, of around 30% between 2000 and 2004, in order to reduce the ozone concentration in the ambient air and the impact of these pollutants on health.
Directive 99/13 of 11 March 1999 on VOC emissions due to the use of solvents imposes limit values for channelled and diffuse VOC emissions and specific obligations with regard to the most toxic solvents (reduction, replacement). These requirements have been transposed into the French legislation. Compliance time for existing installations was reduced by two years (2005 instead of 2007). The general objective intended by the directive is to reduce emissions by approximately 60% in 2007.
The directive is trying to encourage treatment at source, via a reduction in the amount of solvents used, rather than downstream treatment. This type of approach is generally more efficient and particularly favourable when it prevents the incineration of solvents, therefore CO2 emissions. Industrial companies have launched reduction initiatives, for example by replacing, whenever possible, paints with a high solvent content by water-based paints, capturing solvent vapours during cleaning operations and searching for substitute products to replace chlorinated solvents.
As part of this objective, the directive and its transposition into French law allow for a certain flexibility with regard to compliance with limit emission values: emission control schemes. These schemes make it possible, instead of complying with the limit values set for each channelled emission point and for diffuse emissions, to conform to an equivalent limit value determined on the total flow of VOC emissions. Guides relating to the implementation of emission control schemes and best available technology to reduce emissions, are being created in partnership with professionals and ADEME.
Guides are already available and can be downloaded at the bottom of this page.
In addition, a directive relative to the reduction in the emissions of volatile organic compounds due to the use of organic solvents in paints and varnishes and vehicle refinishing products will be adopted soon. This directive will limit French VOC emissions by approximately 40,000 tons.
With regard to VOC emissions due to road transport, the 1998 “Auto-Oil” directives have managed to cut the maximum level of benzene in petrol by 5 in 2000.
Amended order of 2 February 1998 relative to the water usage and consumption as well as any kind of emissions of permit holding classified installations for environmental protection
Order of 29 May 2006 relative to the reduction in the emissions of volatile organic compounds due to the use of organic solvents in certain varnishes and paints and vehicle refinishing products
European Parliament and Council Directive no. 2004-42/CE of 21 April 2004relative to the reduction in the emissions of volatile organic compounds due to the use of organic solvents in certain varnishes and paints and vehicle refinishing products, amending directive no. 1999/13/CE
Order of 8 July 2003 endorsing the national programme aimed at controlling air pollutant emissions (SO2, NOx, VOC and NH3)
European Parliament and Council Directive no. 2001/80/CE of 23 October 2001 on the limitation of the emissions of certain air pollutants caused by major combustion facilities
Council Directive no. 1999/13/CE of 11 March 1999 relative to the reduction in the emissions of volatile organic compounds due to the use of organic solvents in certain activities and installations
Order of 8 December 1995 relative to the control of volatile organic compounds emissions resulting from the storage of petrol and its distribution from terminals to service stations
European Parliament and Council Directive no. 94/63/CEE of 20 December 1994 on the control of volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions resulting from the storage of petrol and its distribution from terminals to service stations.