Safe and clean

Keeping our air safe and clean by reducing pollution is one of the key roles of government at European and international level.

Solvents in products such as coatings, inks, and consumer products can emit substances into the air known as Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). VOC emissions from solvent-based products are regulated to protect air quality.

The European Solvents industry has shown continuous commitment to improve air quality by contributing to the reduction of  total VOC emissions in the EU by more than 60% since 1990.

Our industry complies with EU legislation on VOC emissions. As part of their commitment to Responsible Care, ESIG members often go beyond these regulations to protect air quality.

ESIG supports the revised National Emission Ceilings Directive (NECD), which sets out emission reduction targets up to 2030 for each EU Member State in line with the Gothenburg Protocol.

Modern solvents can extend the lifetime of materials used in everyday goods and infrastructure ranging from cars to bridges. Therefore, ESIG believes that further VOC restrictions will negatively impact the sustainability and efficiency of solvents. Emission reduction measures should be pragmatic and take into account costs and technical feasibility while ensuring clear environmental benefits.

ESIG, through its Air Quality group, addresses all the issues related to indoor and outdoor air quality and the use of solvents.


Together with the major downstream users of solvents, ESIG has created ESVOC, a co-operation platform to facilitate the implementation of relevant existing legislation. It currently consists of representatives from almost 30 different associations that meet once a year in the Core Group to review the work programme and define strategies.

Two working groups work on harmonising approaches and collecting data. They also provide advice and exchange best practices in different areas. One of them deals with industrial applications, the other with professional and consumer applications and addresses topics such as indoor air quality and secondary organic aerosol formation.

In addition, the Air Quality Group oversees the Solvents VOC emission inventories and maintains constructive working relationships with all stakeholders including UNECE Taskforces. It works closely with the ESVOC platform to ensure alignment and co-operation with the activities of the downstream users of solvents.

Members and scope

Furthermore, ESIG is an active member of the air quality community:
it co-sponsors the annual Workshop on Atmospheric Chemistry and Air Quality.

ESIG is also an active member of the UNECE Taskforce Emission Inventories and Projections (TFEIP), measurement and modelling (TFMM) & Technical Economic issues (TFTEI).

We have also been invited to participate to the EU Commission’s adhoc expert group on a holistic approach to indoor air quality that develops a guidance document for people involved in building construction.

ESIG Air Quality Group leads research to proactively document the decrease in VOC emissions from solvents based on sales data in EU Member States. Data from this research is compiled into what is known as the ESIG Inventory.

Inventory data has revealed that VOC emissions from the solvent sector have been generally over-estimated.

Insights like this help lawmakers to make evidence-based policies using actual emissions data. The Inventory also helps Member States to meet VOC regulatory requirements under the National Emission Ceilings Directive.

Inventory results are supported by the European Monitoring and Evaluation Programme (EMEP), the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), leading European experts and officials in EU Member States.

The solvents industry has made important changes to its products and processes to protect air quality. ESIG members continue to invest in research and innovation to realise further improvements. Today, our members are:

  • Creating new formulas with low-ozone forming potential that do not compromise performance;
  • Researching ozone formation and promoting efficient solutions such as abatement techniques;
  • Working with EU and national regulators to encourage the industry to develop new products that meet sustainability targets without compromising performance.

Since most organic solvents rapidly biodegrade and have relatively low eco-toxicity, they do not persist in the environment. We can further control emissions from solvents through incineration and recycling.

Industry has also developed specialised technology to reduce VOC emissions. Booths that spray paint on cars, for example, can reduce VOC emissions by 30-50% according to the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA).

The use of recuperative or regenerative oxidisers in coil coating installations also reduces VOC emissions by as much as 50% compared to traditional thermal oxidisers (ECCA).



Specialised technology

The Solvents Industry is committed to the improvement of air quality in Europe, and has been closely following scientific developments on air pollution.  Already in 2006 ESIG commissioned two models and examined the results of a third independent model to project ozone levels following certain VOC regulatory measures.

  • Chimere Model developed by L’Institut National de l’Environnement Industriel et des Risques (INERIS) and used in French Government scenarios.
  • LOTOSEUROS Model developed by Nederlandse Organisatie voor Toegepast-Natuurwetenschappelijk Onderzoek (TNO) in the Netherlands.
  • Harwell Trajectory Model developed independently by Professor Richard Derwent and used to evaluate European ground-level ozone trends from 1990-2008.

Both the INERIS and TNO models showed that once current legislation is fully implemented, further reductions in VOCs emissions will not significantly reduce ozone. Legislators and industry should therefore focus on implementing existing legislation rather than introducing additional VOC legislation.The Harwell model showed that the solvents industry has substantially contributed to reducing ground-level ozone. The Solvents Emissions Directive has also had a significant positive impact on air quality.


Human-made VOCs declined by 60% since 1990.

On average half as much solvent is used in manufacturing today compared to 1980.


Air quality is the main factor impacting the welfare, health and climate on our planet. It is a complex topic given the fact that emissions from many sources (natural and man-made), the atmospheric chemical reactions of these emissions and the trans- boundary air pollution between continents.

The challenge is twofold:

  • VOCs contribute to ground-level ozone in the presence of sunlight and nitrogen oxides (NOx). Ozone peaks primarily occur in summer, downwind of large urban areas.
  • VOCs are both man-made such as from vehicle emissions and power plants, or the result of natural emissions from trees and plants.

In addition to ozone formed by photochemical reaction between nitrogen oxides (NOx) and VOCs in sunlight, Particulates, PM2.5, which are primary emitted in diesel engine exhaust, and secondary formed by chemical reactions in the atmosphere such as ammonium sulphates, ammonium nitrates and secondary organic aerosols are also an issue.

Particulates-mainly fine particles of less than 2.5 microns, PM2.5 -can penetrate the passages in the lungs. It is believed that it is the number of small particles rather than their chemical composition which mostly affects our breathing.

A new field of research is the Secondary Organic Aerosol (SOA) formation which then attribute to PM2.5 . In summer in Europe, urban particulates of small diameter (PM2.5) are mainly emitted by the tailpipe of diesel engines. It accounts for about 50% of the total PM2.5. Secondary particles, mainly inorganic formed by the oxidation of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides with ammonia, producing ammonium sulphates and nitrates, account for the remaining 50% of PM2.5 emissions. These inorganic secondary aerosols are dominated by ammonium nitrates which represent at least 30% of PM2.5 following the continued decline of sulphur dioxide in European air. Secondary organic aerosols (SOAs) are formed in much smaller amounts from the chemical degradation of hydrocarbons (principally terpenes from Biogenic sources) in the atmosphere. It cannot be said today that solvents are massively the cause of SOA formation.

Finally, ozone and PM2.5 like other pollutants know no international boundary, and all countries both within and outside Europe have to work together to address the “Air Quality Challenge”.