Emissions of volatile organic compounds in paints, varnishes and vehicle refinishing products
Directive 2004/42/EC on the limitation of emissions of volatile organic compounds due to the use of organic solvents in certain paints and varnishes and vehicle refinishing products
This directive, known as the ‘Paints Directive’ aims to limit the total content of volatile organic compounds (VOCs*) due to the use of organic solvents in certain paints and varnishes and vehicle refinishing products. This would prevent or reduce air pollution resulting from the contribution of VOCs to forming ozone in the troposphere, the lowest layer of the earth’s atmosphere.
The directive defines the technical specifications for certain paints and varnishes (excluding aerosols) and vehicle refinishing products. They are principally coatings applied to buildings or vehicles. These products are listed in subcategories in Annex I of the directive.
This directive complements Regulation (EC) No 1272/2008 on the labelling of chemical substances and preparations and places the responsibility on EU countries to ensure that the products concerned are on sale only when they have a VOC content which does not exceed the limits set out in Annex II of the directive (ranging from 30 to 750 grams/litre (g/l) for paints and varnishes) and comply with the labelling requirements. The label must indicate:
the subcategory of the product and the relevant VOC limit values in g/l;
the maximum content of VOC in g/l of the product in a ready-to-use condition.
Annex II of the directive also lists maximum VOC content limit values for vehicle refinishing products. The European Commission will adapt this list to take account of technical progress.
EU countries must report the results of the monitoring programme to demonstrate compliance with the directive and the categories and quantities of products licensed. It must be reported to the Commission every 5 years. Countries must permit the free circulation of these products which, in their ready-for-use condition, comply with the directive’s requirements. They must also set penalties for infringing national rules adopted in line with the directive and make sure they are enforced.
The Commission submitted this report to the European Parliament and the Council, examining:
the broad potential to make reductions in the VOC content of products outside the directive’s scope, including aerosols for paints and varnishes;
the possible introduction, in a second phase, of a further reduction in the VOC content of vehicle refinishing products;
any new aspect of the socioeconomic impact of the second phase as envisioned for paints and varnishes.
The Commission also submitted a report taking account of technological developments in the manufacture of paints, varnishes and vehicle refinishing products. This report examines the broad scope and potential for making further reductions in VOC content of products within the scope of the directive, including the possible distinction between paints used for interiors and exteriors.
The Paints Directive amended the previous VOC Solvent Emissions Directive (Directive 1999/13/EC which has since been repealed by 2010/75/EU, the Industrial Emissions Directive) removing the sub-activity of ‘Vehicle Refinishing’ (the painting of road vehicles carried out as part of vehicle repair, conservation or decoration away from manufacturing installations) from its scope. This activity now comes under the scope of the Paints Directive.
As an exception (‘derogation’), such compliance is not required for paints, varnishes and vehicle refinishing products to be used:
for activities listed in Annex VII (Part I) to Directive 2010/75/EU and regulated in accordance with its Chapter V, or
for the restoration and maintenance of buildings and vintage vehicles of historical and cultural value.
The monitoring and reporting requirements are, from 16 July 2021, repealed and replaced by Regulation (EU) 2019/1020 on a national market surveillance strategy.
Application & Background
It has applied since 30 April 2004 and had to become law in the EU countries by 30 October 2005.
For more information, see:
The Paints Directive (European Commission).
Volatile organic compound (VOC): any organic compound with high vapour pressure at ordinary room temperature, and a boiling point below 250°C, causing large numbers of molecules to evaporate and enter the surrounding air.
Directive 2004/42/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 April 2004 on the limitation of emissions of volatile organic compounds due to the use of organic solvents in certain paints and varnishes and vehicle refinishing products and amending Directive 1999/13/EC (OJ L 143, 30.4.2004, pp. 87-96)
Successive amendments to Directive 2004/42/EC have been incorporated into the original text. This consolidated version is of documentary value only.
Regulation (EU) 2019/1020 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 June 2019 on market surveillance and compliance of products and amending Directive 2004/42/EC and Regulations (EC) No 765/2008 and (EU) No 305/2011 (OJ L 169, 25.6.2019, pp. 1-44)
Directive (EU) 2016/2284 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 14 December 2016 on the reduction of national emissions of certain atmospheric pollutants, amending Directive 2003/35/EC and repealing Directive 2001/81/EC (OJ L 344, 17.12.2016, pp. 1-31)
Directive 2010/75/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 24 November 2010 on industrial emissions (integrated pollution prevention and control) (Recast) (OJ L 334, 17.12.2010, pp. 17-119)
Successive amendments to Directive 2010/75/EU have been incorporated into the original text. This consolidated version is of documentary value only.
Regulation (EC) No 1272/2008 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 December 2008 on classification, labelling and packaging of substances and mixtures, amending and repealing Directives 67/548/EEC and 1999/45/EC, and amending Regulation (EC) No 1907/2006 (OJ L 353, 31.12.2008, pp. 1-1355)
See consolidated version.
Directive 2001/81/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 October 2001 on national emission ceilings for certain atmospheric pollutants (OJ L 309, 27.11.2001, pp. 22-30)