Solvents trade prepares for strict new EU rules

Anti-VOC emissions directive will be "costliest law ever," more controls already planned

EU solvents manufacturers and users have started to prepare for what they claim will be the most expensive piece of EU legislation ever to affect the industry. However, when the solvents directive is finally adopted by EU ministers next week it will not be the last regulatory instrument to hit the trade.

At a conference in Brussels yesterday, European industry representatives heard that it would cost an estimated euros 3bn per year to implement measures to reduce emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from installations using industrial solvents. Ian Dobson of BPAmoco Chemicals said the new directive would be "one of the solvents industry's biggest spends and a great deal of turmoil". But he suggested that the industry would weather the storm and that users would continue to be able to consume the industrial solvents targeted by the directive.

However, an official from the Commission environment directorate (DGXI) said that things were going to get increasingly tough for the sector. Dominique Klein said there was a "very clear tendency of legislative and market pressure to move away from solvents".

The EU wants to reduce VOC emissions because of their role in creating ground-level ozone or "summer smog" - a cause of respiratory illness. The solvents directive, which has already been agreed in principle by the EU Council of Ministers and is likely to be rubber stamped next week, is aimed at reducing emissions of VOCs to 57% of 1990 levels by 2007. It will affect a wide range of solvent-using industries including printing, paint manufacture, wood impregnation, leather coating and dry cleaning.

Mr Klein recalled that the Commission had a right of initiative to put forward further measures if these were deemed necessary. In fact, a new proposal likely to have an impact on the solvents industry is just weeks away. This is a draft directive aimed at limiting low-level ozone pollution by setting concentration limits in ambient air.

Uncertainty remains over what limits the Commission will suggest, but it looks likely that it will adopt a level proposed by the World Health Organisation of 60 parts per billion (ppb), which in some areas might well force VOC emissions reductions beyond those driven by the solvents directive. At yesterday's meeting, Mr Dobson said this was unrealistic and expressed a hope that the EU would follow America's example and propose a limit of 80 ppb.

The Commission is also considering two legislative proposals on the solvent content of domestic and industrial paint and on vehicle finishing. Results of feasibility studies on these should be ready before the end of the year when the Commission will look at whether further legislation, or some other instrument such as voluntary agreements, is required.

Follow Up:
European Solvents Industry Group, tel: +32 2 676 7242.

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