Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC)

This page describes the Dutch environmental policy for emissions of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC). The most important instrument is the Activities Decree ('Activiteitenbesluit').

Current and future policy

The national policy with respect to reduction of emissions of volatile organic compounds is mainly aimed at measures at the source of the processes. This means that working with other products and processes is preferred over end-of-pipe abatement techniques. Besides this typical Dutch approach, the European directives concerning VOC are strictly implemented in the general binding rules of the Activities Decree. The Dutch policy is described in a short presentation (pdf, 184 kB).

The Gothenburg protocol was revised in May 2012. VOC emissions in the Netherlands must be reduced by 8% in 2020 compared to 2005. This target is expected to be achieved through the current policy and legislation. Emissions from refineries and tank and ship loading and unloading are a key issue.

Policy and emissions since 1980's

In the 1980s and 1990s the policy was generally defined by the KWS2000 project (pdf, 501 kB). This project played a key role in the granting of permits (see NeR). The project was set up in consultation with the national government, local authorities, trade and industry and resulted in a reduction of over 50% of emissions from industry, small firms and households.

The follow-up of KWS2000 was the National Reduction Plan Non-Methane Volatile Organic Compounds (NRP-NMVOC, see final report with summary in English (pdf, 1 MB)). This plan was set up for and in collaboration with the sectors industry, energy, trading, services and building and concerned the years 2000 to 2010. The reason for the NRP-NMVOC was the National Emission Ceiling (NEC) for the Netherlands. In this project an additional 34% reduction was accomplished.

The registered data in the Dutch Pollutant Release and Transfer Register (PRTR) of some sectors show a large increase in the year 2005. This rise is not an increase in emissions, but the effect of a different monitoring method in use since 2005. This method is used in the loading and unloading of ships and tanks, refineries and crude oil terminals, oil industry and chemical industry and is based on US-EPA Reference Method 21. Recent studies suggest the actual emissions of refineries and tank loading could be even higher.

Environmental and health effects

Emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOC) must be reduced in order to control peaks in the concentration of ozone in the lower atmosphere. Ozone in the living environment results from the breakdown of hydrocarbons in the presence of sunlight and NOx. In certain weather conditions this leads to a concentration peak. Ozone is a key component of smog. High ozone concentrations may cause damage to crops and health problems in humans, for example.

Besides the problems relating to ozone formation in the living environment, high concentrations of volatile organic compounds (such as those that can occur in the workplace) may also have a direct effect on health. Prolonged exposure to high concentrations of these substances may damage the nervous system, for example, also called Organic Psycho-syndrome. Furthermore, there are also volatile organic compounds with carcinogenic or mutagenic properties.