UK’s Clean Air Strategy 2019 Addresses Product VOCs

The UK has released their Clean Air Strategy 2019 document and it contains some groundbreaking measures that, if implemented, will have very positive impacts on the environment and our health.

It encompasses many areas of air pollution, including indoor air pollutants for the 1st time in any meaningful way, which as NOAA recently pointed out, have as large an impact on outdoor air pollution as vehicle exhaust!

The few news reports I saw did mention air “fresheners” and perfumes, with some building materials, but didn’t get into details. I had to dig through the document and what follows is most of what pertains to our interests here, being seriously sensitive to indoor pollutants.

I’m sure that other sources will focus on the regular types of outdoor pollutants quite well, while mostly ignoring the indoor products and materials, so I will not touch upon them, except for a few illustration screenshots  from the report.

I’ve added  very little of my own commentary. It’s almost entirely copied and pasted (and reformatted) from their document, so you can see for yourself what their plans are regarding NMVOCs (non-methane volatile organic compounds) from consumer products and materials that leave so many of us disabled and housebound, and unfortunately, far too rarely in a home that protects us from exposures and contributes to our well-being.


Among other types of pollutants, the executive summary of the report includes:

Chapter 6: Action to reduce emissions at home

Many people are unaware that emissions in the home increase personal exposure to pollutants and contribute significantly to our overall national emissions.

Burning wood and coal in open fires and stoves makes up 38% of the UK’s primary emissions of fine particulate matter1 (PM2.5). Harmful sulphur dioxide (SO2) is emitted by coal burned in open fires.

Non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs) from a wide variety of chemicals that are found in carpets, upholstery, paint, cleaning, fragrance, and personal care products are another significant source of pollution.

We will:

  • work with consumer groups, health organisations and industry to improve awareness of NMVOC build-up in the home, and the importance of effective ventilation to reduce exposure
  • work with consumer groups, health organisations, industry and retailers to better inform consumers about the VOC content of everyday products
  • explore a range of options including the development of a voluntary labelling scheme for NMVOC containing products, and assess its potential effectiveness
  • work with consumer groups, health organisations, industry and retailers to promote development of lower VOC-content products and to reduce emissions from this sector.

Alongside our actions on emissions of NMVOCs, we will consult on changes to Building Regulations standards for ventilation in homes and other buildings, to help reduce the harmful build-up of indoor air pollutants.


The Effects of Air Pollution
~Defra, ‘Emissions of air pollutants in the UK, 1970 to 2016’ (2018),


Air pollution has negative impacts on human health and the environment

“Low level ozone also has an impact on health. This is formed when emissions of NOx and NMVOCs react together in the atmosphere and, at higher concentrations, can cause breathing problems, trigger asthma, reduce lung function and cause lung diseases …”


Clean Air Strategy 2019

From the full report:

PM 2.5 from pg 14
NOx from pg 18
NMVOCs from page 20

pg 24:

Air pollution is a major public health risk ranking alongside
cancer, heart disease and obesity.

It causes more harm than passive smoking.

“There is also emerging evidence for a link between air pollution and
an acceleration of the decline in cognitive function.”

pg 57:

Awareness of the exposure that takes place in the home is currently very low.

The government’s objective is to raise awareness of the potential impacts of air pollution at home and ensure that consumers are armed with reliable information enabling them to make informed choices to protect themselves, their families and their neighbours.

pg 64:

Outdoors, NMVOCs react with other pollutants in the air in the presence of sunlight to cause ground level ozone and particulates. Ozone can cause short term physical symptoms such as inflammation of the mouth, eyes, nose, throat and lungs, in addition to causing damage to ecosystems. Industrial NMVOC emissions are subject to a range of controls.


Reducing exposure to NMVOCs at home

Indoors, while NMVOCs do not react with sunlight in the same way as they do outdoors, they do still react in the air to form other chemicals. For example, many fragrances in common household and personal care products include limonene and alpha pinene (responsible for citrus and pine scents). These have a low level of toxicity, but once released into the air indoors they can react to form new chemicals. These include harmful substances such as formaldehyde, a well understood secondary product of fragrance chemicals.

There are a number of practical ways to reduce indoor air pollution from VOCs, which can be as simple as switching to lower VOC alternatives,such as unperfumed cleaning products, and ensuring that homes are well ventilated to avoid an accumulation of emissions from multiple sources.


Alongside our action on emission sources of NMVOCs, we also recognise the importance of ventilation in reducing the build-up of harmful levels of air pollution within homes.

As part of the forthcoming review of the energy efficiency standards in the Building Regulations, as announced in the Clean Growth Strategy, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government will consult on changes to standards in Part F of the Building Regulations relating to ventilation in homes and other buildings. The consultation is due to take place in spring 2019.

YES! Look below!
VOC standards are needed!


Currently, with the exception of the Paints Regulations, there are few provisions limiting the VOC content of products used in the home.
We will improve understanding of exposure to VOCs within the home, working with industry, academia and health organisations.
Recognising the impact of high-VOC products, both in the home and once ventilated outdoors, we would like a wider range of low-VOC alternatives to many household products.
Many products contain VOCs to enable their function, for example, propellant in aerosol cans, but many other products contain VOCs as an added extra, for example, fragrance in soap.
The government will work with industry on how best to enable consumers to make informed choices about what they use in their homes, and to switch to low-VOC content products wherever possible.
Options include the development of a voluntary labelling scheme for NMVOC-containing products; example mock-ups of these labels are given below.
There are a wide range of labelling schemes across Europe, including traffic-light labeling for the nutritional content of food in the UK, EU-wide energy labelling and indoor air quality labels in several countries, including France and Denmark.
The science about the impacts of indoor use of products containing VOCs is developing rapidly.
The government will work with industry to take account of this emerging evidence base. We want to develop voluntary approaches wherever possible and will look at regulation where necessary.


UK Clean Air Strategy 2019 NMVOC label examples

“We will explore a range of options including the development of a voluntary labelling scheme for NMVOC-containing products, and assess its potential effectiveness.”

VOC standards are something that I see as being extremely important.

Unfortunately it seems they will only go with voluntary standards instead of mandating at least minimum and consistent standards across the board. I can already predict that a voluntary scheme will fall far short of what is needed, and I do hope that they will do what is needed so that soon all products will have to be tested and label their VOC emissions so that we can make informed choices to protect our health and well-being.

With any VOC labeling program, it will be useful to have measurements for new materials and products, as well as what the emissions are/will be at week and month long intervals, to see how long off-gassing continues for, or if something will offgas for it’s entire lifetime. Ventilation isn’t always possible, especially if outdoor air also sucks.

I am heartened that they are starting to take action and I do hope that they will not take their time, but will act quickly as we are in serious need of harm reduction policies now, if future generations are to have a chance at staying alive.

Let’s hope that we will soon be able to purchase VOC-free products and materials, and breathe clean air both indoors and outdoors.


One response to “UK’s Clean Air Strategy 2019 Addresses Product VOCs

  1. Here’s another excellent move from the EU:

    …”Tissue paper, kitchen roll, toilet and printing paper products must now be free of a wide range of harmful chemicals if they want to bear the EU ecolabel. They also need to be made of wood fibres accredited as sustainable, contain no fragrances, which can cause allergies, and use cleaner production processes.

    The new rules also forbid a broad range of chemicals classified as harmful. Lotions used to soften paper must no longer contain parabens, triclosan, formaldehyde, formaldehyde releasers or methylisothiazolinone, for example.

    A ban is now in place for dyes and pigments based on aluminium, silver, arsenic, barium, cadmium, cobalt, chromium, mercury, manganese, nickel, lead, selenium, antimony, tin or zinc.

    Production processes must reduce harmful emissions into the air and water.”

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