Scientific activities > Agents > VOCs and construction materials
Assessment of emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) include a number of compounds belonging to different chemical families (alcohols, aldehydes, ketones, glycol ethers, terpenes, etc). Today they are recognised as parameters for assessing air quality, particularly indoors, as occasional or prolonged exposure to certain VOCs can pose a health risk.
Of the pollution sources identified indoors, construction materials emit VOCs and formaldehyde. In order to reduce VOC exposure and therefore the potential health impacts, some European countries recommend different procedures for qualifying construction products. These identify and promote construction products with low chemical emissions for consumers. At the moment they have not been standardised at European level and are not applied in France.
In this context, Afsset received a solicited request in April 2004 from the French Ministries of Health and the Environment to set up a procedure for assessing the health risks incurred by VOCs emitted by solid construction products.
The solicited request contains various sections, the first three of which are addressed by the Agency:
1. express an opinion on the scientific relevance and feasibility conditions of the procedure for assessing health risks concerning VOC emissions from construction products;
2. propose a classification system based on the assessment of VOC emission-related risks;
3. validate the proposed procedure by applying it for three to four products or materials to be assessed as a priority.
This solicited request follows the opinion of 5 March 2002 of the French High Council for Public Hygiene (CSHPF) on user information on VOC emissions from construction products.
Moreover, the establishment of product labelling was deemed a priority by the French National Health and Environment Plan (PNSE) which plans for 50% of marketed products to be labelled by 2010 and should help users (project owners, project managers, architects) to choose products that are safer for human health. Working method
In response to the solicited request, Afsset created a working group (VOC WG) run jointly with the French Scientific and Technical Centre for Construction (CSTB).
The VOC WG was initially formed by representatives of organisations involved in work on indoor air quality and the characterisation of chemical emissions from construction products: OQAI, CSTB, CTBA and INRS. This WG was then expanded to include experts from the Committee of Specialised Experts "Assessment of risk associated with air environments" and "assessment of risks associated with chemical substances".
Since 18 June 2004, during the meeting to set the working group up, the comparison and consideration of various expert opinions have enabled an assessment method to be finalised, measuring VOC and formaldehyde emissions generated by samples of solid construction products (flooring, wall and ceiling linings in particular) and comparing them to the previously defined health criteria.
The report presented to the CSE was the subject of an opinion during the session of 23 June 2006 and formally validated on 6 October 2006.
As a result, Afsset suggested the implementation of its protocol and regular updating as new facts are learned, in order to take account of VOC emissions in the health qualification of construction products.
Afsset then proposed continuing this work, expanding it to the assessment of liquid construction products and furniture, which may emit VOC inside enclosed spaces, as well as other families of substances present indoors.