Volatile organic compounds: regulations and limits
What are VOCs, or volatile organic compounds?
What does the law establish regarding the limits within which they must remain? In this article we will try to clarify the topic and provide the fundamental information to get to know the VOCs better.
Volatile organic compounds, also known by the abbreviations VOC, identify compounds whose molecules contain different functional groups and as a whole assume different physical and chemical behaviours but characterized by a high volatility. VOCs include, for example, organic solvents such as thinners, paints, and benzene, but also liquid hydrocarbons containing chlorine, fluorine, sulphur and nitrogen.
Italian legislation defines volatile organic compounds as all those compounds which, at a temperature of 293.15 K, or 20 ° C, have a vapor pressure of 0.01 kPa or higher.
The three categories of VOCs
Volatile organic compounds can be divided into three main categories depending on their origin:
- Anthropogenic compounds originating from human activities, deriving for example from oil and combustions, whose main exponents are benzene, toluene, methane, carbon tetrachloride, ethane.
- Biogenic compounds of natural origin, such as terpenes contained in vegetable essential oils
- Anthropogenic and biogenic compounds such as isoprene.
VOCs represent a source of risk for human health and can present short-term effects, such as headaches and nausea, or skin, eye and respiratory tract irritations. These are the least worrying if compared to those that could occur in the long term, in particular linked to the development of tumours and irreparable damage to the nervous system.
The use of VOCs must therefore be limited to specific areas equipped with special suction systems to capture the vapours emitted.
What does the law on volatile organic compounds states?
The Legislative Decree 152/2006 and specifically the article 275 and the annex III part five, defines the emission limits for specific activities, the methods for monitoring and controlling them, the criteria for assessing the conformity of values measured and the methodologies for drawing up the solvent management plan, where applicable.
In addition, the Legislative Decree 161/2006, implementing the Directive 2004/42 / EC, has introduced further elements to be considered in relation to the categories of varnishes, paints and products for carpentry works, in particular with regard to the limits of VOC content, the labelling obligations and the methods of analysis to be used for their detection.
Finally, there is the Directive 2010/75 / EU which establishes a series of rules regarding the prevention and the integrated reduction of pollution deriving from industrial activities. In fact, a series of measures are set within it to avoid and, if it is not possible, reduce emissions in the air, in the water and in the soil to prevent the production of wastes and achieve a high level of environmental protection.
Therefore, any company using volatile organic compounds in its production processes is subject to the obligation to manage them with specific verification and aspiration systems to operate in full compliance with the provisions of the law regarding environmental and workers protection.