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Reducing the emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs)

This Directive 1999/13/EC aims to prevent or reduce the direct and indirect effects of emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) on the environment and human health, by setting emission limits for such compounds and laying down operating conditions for installations using organic solvents.


Council Directive 1999/13/EC of 11 March 1999 on the limitation of emissions of volatile organic compounds due to the use of organic solvents in certain activities and installations [See amending acts].


The emissions of volatile organic compounds * (VOCs) in the atmosphere contribute to the formation of the tropospheric ozone (ozone in the lower atmosphere). Large quantities of this ozone may be harmful to people, vegetation, forests and crops. Sensitive people may suffer irritation of the throat and eyes, as well as respiratory difficulties. Tropospheric ozone is also a greenhouse gas.


The Directive covers emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from certain activities and installations listed in Annex I.

Requirements of installations

Member States must take the necessary measures to ensure that all new installations comply with the provisions of the Directive. Moreover, all new installations not already covered by the Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control Directive (IPPC) must be registered or authorised before being put into service.

Existing installations must be registered or authorised if they have not yet been authorised under the IPPC Directive. They must comply with the same requirements as for new installations no later than 30 October 2007. Where part of an existing installation undergoes a substantial change, it must comply with the requirements applicable to new installations.


The industrial operators concerned can conform to the specified emission limits in either of the following ways:

  • by installing equipment to reduce emissions to comply with the emission limit values and the fugitive emission values, or total emission limit values;
  • by introducing a reduction scheme to arrive at an equivalent emission level, in particular by replacing conventional products which are high in solvents with low-solvent or solvent-free products.

Solvents or mixtures likely to have a serious effect on human health because of their content of VOCs (classified as carcinogens, mutagens, or toxic to reproduction), must be replaced by less harmful substances or mixtures.

National plans

Member States may define and implement national plans for reducing emissions from the activities and industrial installations covered by Article 1 (excluding surface cleaning and dry cleaning activities). The plans must result in a reduction of the annual emissions of VOCs by at least the same amount and within the same time-frame as would have been achieved by applying the emission limits under the Directive.

The national plan must include:

  • a list of the measures taken or to be taken;
  • binding interim reduction targets against which progress towards the aim can be measured;
  • a full description of the range of instruments through which its requirements will be achieved, evidence that these instruments will be enforceable and details of the means by which compliance with the plan will be demonstrated.


The Commission must ensure that an exchange of information between Member States and the activities concerned on the use of organic substances and their potential substitutes takes place.

It must consider the potential effects of organic substances on human health in general and occupational exposure in particular. Their potential effects on the environment and the economic consequences will also be examined with a view to providing recommendations on the use of techniques which have the least potential effects on air, water, soil, ecosystems and human health.

Following the exchange of information, the Commission must publish recommendations for each activity.


The Member States must take the necessary measures to ensure that the public has access to information concerning:

  • applications for authorisation for new installations or for substantial changes to installations,
  • the decision of the competent authority, including at least a copy of the authorisation, and any subsequent updates,
  • the general binding rules applicable to installations and the list of registered and authorised activities,
  • the results of emission-monitoring as required under the authorisation or registration conditions.


Every three years, Member States must submit a report to the Commission on the implementation of the Directive.


This Directive complements the provisions adopted under the framework of the Auto-Oil Programme (Directives relating to emissions in the atmosphere from cars and lorries with internal combustion engines and Directive 94/63/EC relating to volatile organic compound emissions resulting from the storage of petrol).

Key terms of the Act

  • Organic compound: any compound containing at least the element carbon and one or more of the following elements: hydrogen, halogens, oxygen, sulphur, phosphorus, silicon or nitrogen, with the exception of carbon oxides and inorganic carbonates and bicarbonates;
  • Volatile organic compound: any organic compound emanating from human activities, other than methane, which are capable of producing photochemical oxidants by reacting with nitrogen oxide in the presence of sunlight. having at 293,15 K a vapour;
  • Organic solvent: any VOC which is used alone or in combination with other agents, and without undergoing a chemical change, to dissolve raw materials, products or waste materials, or is used as a cleaning agent to dissolve contaminants, or as a dissolver, dispersion medium, viscosity adjuster, surface tension adjuster, plasticiser, or a preservative.



Entry into force

Deadline for transposition in the Member States

Official Journal

Directive 1999/13/EC



Official Journal L 85 of 29.3.1999

Amending act(s)

Entry into force

Deadline for transposition in the Member States

Official Journal

Regulation (EC) No 1882/2003



Official Journal L 284 of 31.10.2003

Directive 2004/42/EC



Official Journal L 143 of 30.04.2003

Directive 2008/112/EC



OJ L 345 of 23.12.2008

The successive amendments and corrections to Directive 1999/13/EC have been integrated in the original text. This consolidated version is of documentary value only.


Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 December 2007 on industrial emissions (integrated pollution prevention and control) (recast) [COM(2007) 844 final – Not published in the Official Journal]. The new Directive shall fill the gaps in existing legislation concerning industrial emissions. By reducing this type of emissions, it shall bring about significant improvements to health and the environment. The new Directive shall:

  • encourage the implementation of the Best Available Techniques;
  • establish more stringent emission limit values for certain sectors across the EU;
  • introduce minimum rules for environmental inspections of industrial installations;
  • extend the scope of the legislation to other polluting activities not covered by current legislation;
  • enable a more effective permit review;
  • amalgamate the current IPPC Directive and the six sectoral directives included in the Directive on waste incineration into one sole directive on industrial emissions.

Co-decision procedure (COD/2007/286)

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 decorative paints and varnishes and vehicle refinishing products and amending Directive 1999/13/EC. The Directive aims to prevent the negative environmental effects of emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from decorative paints and vehicle refinishing products. It lays down maximum limits for the VOC content of these products. The sub-categories of the relevant products are listed in Annex I to the proposal.

Product categories falling within the scope of the Directive can be marketed in the EU only if they comply with the specifications in Annex II. Such products must be labelled when placed on the market. Member States will develop a market surveillance system to verify the VOC content of the products covered by this Directive.

Each Member State will designate an authority to be responsible for ensuring conformity with the provisions of the Directive. A system of effective, proportionate and dissuasive penalties should be established for infringements.

Table 1 in the Directive shows estimates of VOC emissions by sector and source for 2010. According to Commission studies, this Directive could help to reduce VOC emissions by 280 kilotonnes per year until 2010.

Last updated: 02.09.2010