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Europe Reports
  Published:2010/12/6

Air Quality Regulations Tighten

Worries in Europe about air pollution were intensified in April as a massive cloud of ash from a volcanic eruption in Iceland grounded all passenger aircraft in the region.

However these concerns about air quality, stemming from a rising incidence of respiratory disease, are also raising anxieties among producers of coatings and related products. They are generating health and environmental regulations at the European Union (EU) and national levels which are bewildering coatings manufacturers and distributors because of a lack of clarity about how exactly they apply to coatings.

At the same time, with coatings in particular, they are leading to fragmentation in the EU's single market because they are resulting in the imposition of different standards and labelling rules in individual countries.

The European Commission, the EU's Brussels-based executive, has indicated that for the moment it does not want to tighten up existing regulations curbing emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from decorative and auto refinishing coatings despite claims that the legislation is ambiguous and open to different interpretations.

"We are disappointed that the commission is not considering revising the VOC legislation because parts of it have not been working well due to a lack of clear definitions," said Jacques Warnon, technical director at CEPE-the European trade association for paints, printing inks and artist colors.

Now the EU is concentrating more on the interior air quality (IAQ) of buildings rather than pollution caused by VOCs such as solvents. EU leaders want, for example, to accelerate the passage through the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers-the two arms of the European Union's legislature-of the proposed Construction Products Regulation (CPR). Paints manufacturers are unhappy with this piece of legislation because of doubts about how it relates to coatings.

"The CPR will replace the Construction Products Directive which coatings companies found confusing because of its lack of clarity on coatings," said one UK-based consultant. "But the regulation is not much clearer on the issue of coatings. The EU leaders setting the legislative agenda for the rest of this year wish to give it priority because of concerns about air quality."

The EU wants to focus more on low-emitting materials and products which over a long period slowly release hazardous gases, chemicals and particles into the interior of buildings. They are not covered, for example, by legal curbs on VOCs like solvents which are rapidly discharged into the air after the application of coatings and other materials.

"While beneficial for the indoor environment, (low-solvent) products have not necessarily been formulated and assessed to minimize their impact on indoor air quality," said the European campaign group HealthyAir in a briefing paper.


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