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anses

French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety

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Updated on 03/08/2016

Emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) by building and decoration products

Proposal for a system to qualify emissions from building and decoration products

Keywords : Indoor air, Volatile organic compounds (VOC), Formaldehyde, Chemical risks

In order to reduce emissions of pollutants at their source, some European countries have different procedures for qualifying building products based on their emission levels in volatile pollutants. These procedures then serve to identify and promote to consumers "low emissivity" building materials and decoration products. In 2006 and 2009, the Agency published and then updated a process for qualifying emissions from building and decoration products, which was useful in developing the French regulations in this area. 

Indoor air is polluted by many sources inherent in buildings, the environment or equipment, as well as by the occupants’ behaviour, and many substances are involved. Building materials and interior decoration products are known to be non-negligible sources of emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOC) due to their diversity and widespread use.

In order to reduce emissions of pollutants at their source, some European countries have different procedures for qualifying building products based on their emission levels in volatile pollutants. These procedures then serve to identify and promote to consumers "low emissivity" building materials and decoration products.

The work of the Agency

In this context, in 2004 the Agency received a formal request from the Ministries of Health and Ecology to establish a procedure for assessing the health risks caused by VOCs emitted by solid building products. This involved:

  • ruling on the scientific relevance and feasibility conditions of the health risk assessment procedure concerning VOC emissions from building products;
  • proposing a classification system based on the assessment of risks associated with VOC emissions;
  • validating the proposed procedure by applying it to three or four products or materials to be assessed as a priority;
  • exploring the possibility of extending this procedure to other sources of VOCs found in confined spaces.

This work led to the publication in 2006 of a qualification procedure for solid building products (partitions and false ceilings,for example)based on their VOC emissions and health criteria. In 2009, this work was updated and extended to liquid building materials (adhesives, coatings, products used for installation, for exampleand decoration products (wallpaper and paint, for example).

The main features of the new qualification procedure proposed in 2009 were:

  • a wider scope that considered solid and liquid building and decoration products;
  • a list of 165 VOCs that can be emitted by these products along with lower concentrations of interest (LCIs) to be complied with;
  • systematic screening for four substances:
  • glutaraldehyde and hexamethylenetetramine - substances that are sensitising by inhalation,
  • enzene and trichlorethylene - category 1A and 1B carcinogenic and/or mutagenic substances, 
  • taking into account recent standardisation work (draft standard CEN TC 351) to define the dimensions of a reference room.

The protocol proposed by ANSES can qualify VOC emissions from building materials and decoration products. It can therefore identify the building materials and decoration products regarded as "low emissivity". The application of this protocol would enable the reduction of pollutant emissions in indoor air in buildings such as those accommodating children, in response to the objectives of Action 19 of the second French National Environment and Health Action Plan (PNSE 2).

This work by the Agency has been useful to the health authorities in developing the French regulations on labelling of building and decoration materials. These regulations are based on the same general principle of quantifying emissions according to existing standards from the NF ISO 16000 series. The exposure concentration thresholds for the best class, A+, are based on the LCIs proposed by the Agency, for the 11 parameters taken into account.