Labelling of building and decoration products with respect to VOC emissions

Regulatory framework

Indoor air is polluted by many sources inherent in buildings, the environment or equipment. Building materials and interior decoration products are known to be non-negligible sources of emission of volatile organic compounds (VOC). Given this, some European countries, including France, have introduced different qualification procedures for building products, in order to reduce the emissions of pollutants at source. French regulations require labelling on the basis of work done by the Agency. These regulations are described below.

In the framework of the French Grenelle environment round-table meeting, the compulsory labelling of building and furnishing products as well as of wall coverings and flooring, paints and varnishes which emit substances into the surrounding air, was suggested and incorporated into the French Environment Code (Article L221-10).

Since 1 January 2012, new building and decoration products intended for indoor use (various coverings, panels, insulation materials, etc.) can only be marketed if they bear a label with information on the emission of volatile pollutants (Articles R221-22 to R221-28). Ultimately all products sold in France will have to be labelled by September 2013.

The detailed procedures for this labelling were defined in Decree no. 2011-321 and the Order of 19 April 2011 concerning the labelling of building, wall coverings or flooring products and of paints and varnishes with respect to their emission of volatile pollutants.

Details of the labelling

The emissions of 10 substances and the "total volatile organic compounds" parameter (TVOC) have to be measured and classified into four categories from A+ to C; the requirements to be met are exposure concentration thresholds defined for each substance and parameter (expressed in µg.m–3).The lowest mark for the various substances emitted by a given material is noted on the label. The graphic layout of the labels is also specified in the Order issued by the Ministry of Ecology: it bears the words"Émissions dans l’air intérieur" (emissions in indoor air), a pictogram, a category scale and a large letter corresponding to the product's category .

This new labelling is the first of its kind for environmentally-related health: it is a selection criterion for building and decoration materials which enables consumers to select those products which are the least toxic for their indoor environment.

On the European level

On the European level, the Joint Research Centre (JRC) coordinates work on the standardisation of protocols for VOC emissions of building materials. A preparatory group made up of various European organisations involved in this topic (AgBB, ANSES, DiCL, FiSIAQ and IEH) made a proposal for standardising emission protocols that was published in the European collaborative action report no. 27 in 2012.

In this framework an effort to standardise the concept of lowest concentrations of interest (LCIs) was undertaken in 2010. ANSES is participating in the work. (The final stage of the AFSSET 2009 protocol aims to compare exposure concentrations for each individual compound to lowest concentrations of interest (LCI). An LCI is considered to be a concentration limit designed to prevent the occurrence of effects on health during long-term exposure to emissions from building and decoration materials. An LCI is defined for each individual compound according to the available reference values: indoor air quality guideline values (IAQG), toxicity reference values (TRV), occupational exposure limits (OEL) in the order in which they are taken into account according to their availability.)