Solvent Emission

Certain industrial activities that use solvents are regulated by the Solvent Emissions Act 2001. This Act transposed the provisions of Council Directive 1999/13/EC on the limitation of the emissions of volatile organic compounds due to the use of organic solvents in certain activities and installation.

Organic solvents are used in many industrial processes and owing to their volatility, some of these solvents are released to the atmosphere. Once released, they undergo a series of complex reactions resulting in the formation of ground-level ozone, an air pollutant. Vulnerable people such as the elderly and those with chronic disease are particularly sensitive to the effects of air pollution. Ozone can also damage crops and vegetation. A number of other solvents, such as carcinogens and mutagens are also harmful to human health.

The Act limits the emission of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from the use of organic solvents, and is intended to reduce air pollution and protect human health. The Directive also has the intended purpose to require safer substitutes for solvents known to be carcinogens, mutagens, etc.

The following table shows typical activities that fall within the scope of the Directive:


Coating Use Printing and Adhesive Use Other
Vehicle refinishing, coil coating, wood coating, leather coating, coating of winding wire, vehicle coating, other coating. Heat set printing, publication gravure printing, other printing, wood/plastic lamination, adhesive coating. Surface cleaning, dry cleaning, wood impregnation, coating manufacture, rubber conversion, vegetable oil extraction, pharmaceutical manufacture.

For listed activities to fall within the requirements of the Act they must have a solvent consumption greater than the specific threshold for that listed activity. These activities operators must meet the common conditions set out in the Act and in Article 5 of the Directive and one of the following three options:

  1. Emission limit values in waste gases and the fugitive emission values; or
  2. The total emission limit; or
  3. The requirements of the reduction scheme.

The first option imposes concentration limits on releases and sets fugitive emission values as a percentage of solvent input into the process. The second option imposes a limit related to production, for example 25g of VOCs can be released per pair of footwear manufactured. The third option allows the operator to use an alternative reduction scheme, provided it achieves the same reduction in releases that would have been achieved if the emission limit values had been imposed.