Air quality has been a subject of concern for many years and has now become a major public health issue. After major studies on outdoor air, ANSES has become highly involved in the quality of indoor air as well. Among the risks linked to pollutants in these environments, construction materials, interior decoration products and furnishing products are regularly cited as sources of pollution due to their emission of volatile and of semi-volatile pollutants. Since 2013, the labelling of construction materials and interior decoration products sold in France has been mandatory and the 3rd French Environment & Health Action Plan provides for the extension of this measure to furnishing products. In this context, ANSES was asked by the Ministries in charge of health and the ecology to identify and establish a list of chemicals that are of primary importance. Today ANSES published the list of 31 substances it considers as having first priority, in order to support the public authorities in the future implementation of furnishing product labelling with regard to volatile pollutants.
Building materials, interior decoration products and furnishing products are regularly mentioned as potential sources of pollution of indoor environments, due to their emissions of volatile or semi-volatile substances. Article L. 221-10 of the French Environmental Code provides for construction and furnishing products to be subjected to mandatory volatile pollutant labelling.
In 2009, the Agency proposed a procedure for the qualification of volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions from construction materials and interior decoration products.
Following this work, and since 1 September 2013, labelling of construction and decoration products sold in France has become mandatory in application of the French Environmental Code.
Limiting exposure to chemicals emitted by furniture
The Indoor Air Quality Action Plan (2013), restated in Action 49 of the 3rd French Environment & Health Action Plan (PNSE 3) (2015-2019), recommends developing labelling for products likely to emit pollutants into indoor air, including furnishing products. In the interim period before mandatory labelling comes into effect by 2020 "a voluntary agreement could be negotiated with furniture manufacturers and distributors, the main market sources of office furniture for public institutions […] and local administrations, with the labelling of 80% of furniture for children as a goal".
In this context, ANSES was asked by the Ministries in charge of health and the ecology to identify and establish a list of chemicals of primary importance for the future implementation of furnishing product labelling.
Exposure to many substances, 31 of which are considered as top priority
Furnishing products are made up of a number of materials that may undergo treatment, decoration or protection processes. They can emit many different volatile or semi-volatile substances, thus exposing the general public to them.
Based on how hazardous substances are and their capacity of emission by the furniture products, 41 substances were identified as substances of interest, 31 of which are considered to have primary importance. These substances have all been classified as carcinogenic, mutagenic and/or toxic to reproduction under Regulation (EC) no.1272/2008 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 December 2008 on the classification, labelling and packaging of substances and mixtures (CLP), and/or have been classified as Group 1, 2A or 2B carcinogens in accordance with the classification of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).
In addition, 21 of these 31 substances are already measurable under ISO standard 16000 used for the labelling procedure of construction and decoration products and have been the subject of a lowest concentrations of interest (LCI) proposal intended to prevent health effects during long-term exposure, and which should aid decision makers in the management measures to be implemented.
Due to the potential presence in furnishing products of substances listed as carcinogenic, mutagenic and/or toxic to reproduction when emitted, the Agency emphasises the importance of:
- limiting population exposure to these substances and moving towards a ban on these emissive substances in order to prevent the marketing of all furnishing products that cause exposure to these pollutants, regardless of the concentration;
- ensuring the traceability of the substances present in furnishing products, from the manufacturer to the distributor, by providing tools for taking the inventory of both the substances found in products and those which are emitted by them;
- making changes in sampling and analysis methods in order to improve their efficacy in terms of detection and representativeness levels (distribution between the gaseous phase and the particulate phase).
Last, ANSES emphasises the importance of complementarily studying pollutant emissions from the full range of consumer products (deodorisers such as scented candles, incense and other odour-masking products, cleaning products) with a view to labelling these products in the future, as provided for in the Indoor Air Quality Action Plan (2013), and integrated into the 2015-2019 French Environment & Health Action Plan (PNSE 3).