Volatile organic compounds in products overview
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are a family of organic compounds that contain one or more carbon atoms and have high vapour pressures so that they evaporate readily into the atmosphere. While there are thousands of compounds that meet this definition, the VOCs under our management are those that participate in atmospheric photochemical reactions and thus are harmful to human health and the environment. These VOCs are defined under Schedule 1 (item 65) of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA 1999), which exclude photo-chemically low-reactive compounds such as methane, ethane and the chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).
In urban areas, consumer and commercial products are the major source of VOC emissions, including:
- architectural coatings
- automotive refinishing products
- cutback asphalt and emulsified asphalt and
- certain products
Impacts on human health and the environment
VOCs are precursor pollutants that contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone, and fine particulate matter (PM2.5), which are the main constituents of smog. Exposure to ground-level ozone and PM2.5 can lead to adverse health impacts such as respiratory and cardiac symptoms that can, in some cases, lead to premature death.
Scientific evidence also indicates that ground-level ozone can lead to reductions in agricultural crop and commercial forest yields, and increased plant susceptibility to disease, pests, and other environmental stresses.
What we are doing
In 2009, the Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) Concentration Limits for Automotive Refinishing Products Regulations and the Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) Concentration Limits for Architectural Coatings Regulations were published.
In 2017, stronger ambient air quality standards were introduced for nitrogen oxides (NOx) and sulphur dioxide (SO2), two air pollutants that contribute to smog and acid rain. The same year, the Code of Practice for the Reduction of Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) Emissions from Cutback and Emulsified Asphalt was published, aimed at reducing VOC emissions from the asphalt sector by at least 40 percent (three to five kilotonnes) over a 6-year period.
On January 5, 2022 the Volatile Organic Compound Concentration Limits for Certain Products Regulations were published. The regulations target several product categories such as personal care, automotive and household maintenance products, adhesives, adhesive removers, sealants and caulks and other miscellaneous products.
On July 9, 2022, the Government of Canada published the Federal Agenda for the Reduction of Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) Emissions from Consumer and Commercial Products in the Canada Gazette, part I. This agenda signaled the government’s intention to take further action between 2022 and 2030 to protect the health of Canadians and their environment from the impacts of air pollution. Planned actions contained in the renewed agenda include:
- reducing the amount of VOCs released by portable fuel containers
- amending current regulations targeting VOCs in architectural coatings and automotive refinishing products
- developing regulations covering VOCs in industrial and commercial adhesives and sealants and
- developing a non-regulatory risk management instrument targeting VOC emissions from printing on plastic packaging
On the international front, Canada has ratified the Gothenburg Protocol, the only legally binding international instrument to address air pollution. It also targets SO2, NOx and PM2.5 emissions. Canada has committed to:
- an emission ceiling for VOCs of 2,100 kilotonnes to be met by 2010 (achieved)
- a 20% emission reduction from 2005 levels by 2020 (indicative)
- Volatile organic compounds overview
- Volatile Organic Compound Concentration Limits for Certain Products Regulations
- Volatile Organic Compound Concentration Limits for Automotive Refinishing Products Regulations
- Volatile Organic Compound Concentration Limits for Architectural Coatings Regulations
- Notice of intent to renew the Federal agenda on the reduction of emissions of volatile organic compounds from consumer and commercial products
- Renewal of the Federal Agenda on the Reduction of Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) Emissions from Consumer and Commercial Products for the 2021 to 2028 period: discussion paper
- Response to comments - Consultations on the renewal of the Federal agenda on the reduction of emissions of volatile organic compounds from consumer and commercial products
- National Pollutant Release Inventory
- Air Pollutant Emission Inventory
- Schedule 1 (item 65) of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA 1999)
- Environmental indicators
- Canadian Ambient Air Quality Standards for PM2.5 and Ozone
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