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Brussels, 14 January 2003

Commission acts to reduce pollution from paints and varnishes

The European Commission has presented a new proposal to reduce the content of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) in a series of decorative paints and varnishes by about 50%, or 280,000 tonnes, per year. VOCs contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone (smog), which is one of the big remaining air quality problems in the EU. The proposal will for the first time set EU-wide limits on solvent content in paints, varnishes and vehicle refinishing products to come into effect in two phases: 2007 and 2010.

Environment Commissioner Margot Wallström said: "The Commission is committed to clean up the air that Europeans breathe and this is part of our efforts to deliver what we have promised. Our proposal will help improve the health of citizens across the EU. It will provide Member States with a new tool to comply with the requirements to limit national emissions that they have signed up to."

The Commission's first priority is to further reduce VOC emissions, which are directly related to ground-level ozone (smog), which is a widespread and chronic problem within the EU. As a result of ozone pollution, sensitive members of the population are affected by symptoms such as eye irritation, sore throats and respiratory problems. In the environment, it affects photosynthesis producing lesions and decoloration of leaves, thus adversely affecting the yield of certain crops.

The proposal's main provisions are:

  • A limitation on the content of VOCs in certain categories of products. These products encompass decorative paints and varnishes, and vehicle-refinishing products. For example, the Proposal includes products such as wall paints or those applied on woods and metals at home.

  • A two-phase approach. This will give the sectors affected adequate time to adapt without compromising the long-term environmental benefits. The first phase will apply from 1 January 2007 while the second will apply from 1 January 2010. For vehicle refinishing products, there will be only one phase, which will apply from 1 January 2007. Limit values for decorative paints in phase I range from 50 g/l for water borne primers to 750g/l for some special solvent borne primers (the so-called "binding primers"). For phase II, limit values will be further lowered significantly for most categories.

  • Estimated benefits for the whole EU after phase II in terms of improved air quality are over €580 million per year, whereas costs have been estimated to range from €108 to €157 million per year. Therefore, the ratio benfits/costs will range from 3.7 to 5.4, with a reduction of emissions from decorative paints of about 50%, or 280,000 tonnes per year.

The proposal will also amend Directive 1999/13/EC on the limitation of emissions of VOCs due to the use of organic solvents in certain activities and installations. The purpose of this Directive is to prevent or reduce the direct and indirect effects of emissions of VOCs into the environment. The amendment concerns the vehicle-refinishing sector. Since the products used in this sector are covered by the proposed new Directive, it was no longer necessary to impose process based controls on this sector and the relevant provisions have been deleted. The new product approach will produce an equivalent reduction of emissions and an easier way of achieving it.

Due to its transboundary nature, no Member State can comprehensively control exposure to ground-level ozone. EU level product-oriented legislation offers the best guarantees to attain the proposed environmental aim.


VOCs are emitted into the air, as the products containing them are used or produced. In transport - emissions in the form of evaporation from hydrocarbon-basedfuels and vehicle exhausts and emissions from the use of solvent-containing products. These emissions undergo chemical reactions in the atmosphere (e.g. reaction with nitrogen oxides in presence of sunlight), which cause a number of indirect effects, in particular the formation of photochemical oxidants such as ground-level ozone. When highly concentrated in air, ozone can impair human health and can damage forests, vegetation and crops, reducing yields.

Pollution by ground-level ozone is a widespread and chronic problem within the Community. Data submitted by the Member States to the Commission indicate that during the summer months the threshold level for the protection of human health (110 µgm-3, expressed as an average value over eight hours) is exceeded in all the Member States and that in urban environments more than 40 million people are estimated to be exposed to potentially harmful concentrations of this aggressive pollutant. Similarly, monitoring data indicates that the threshold value for the protection of vegetation (65µgm-3 expressed as an average value over 24 hours) is exceeded in all Member States. These problems are addressed in another EU Directive, 2002/3/EC(1) relating to ozone in ambient air, which sets even more ambitious thresholds and target values. Member States must transpose this Directive by September 2003.

By providing European legislation that will further reduce VOC emissions, today's proposal will make it easier for Member States to meet their obligations under the 2001 Directive on national emission ceilings (NEC). This Directives foresees that national emissions of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds and ammonia be restricted to certain ceilings in each Member State in 2010. The analysis underpinning this proposal took into account the geographical distribution of emission sources throughout the Community, the long-range transport aspect, the cost effectiveness of emission reductions for each pollutant in each Member State, and the need to simultaneously reach environmental targets for both acidification and ground-level ozone (because nitrogen oxide contributes both to ground-level ozone formation and acidification).

After prolonged and difficult negotiations in Council and the European Parliament, Member States were able to commit to national emission ceilings for 2010, which give a combined Community ceiling of 6.5 million tonnes of VOC emissions per year. In so doing Member States highlighted the difficulty of reducing VOC emissions and asked the Commission to come up with further proposals in this area, in particular concerning the VOC content of products.

Further Information is available on the Internet at:

(1)OJ L 67, 9.3.2002, p. 14.

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