Air pollution from traffic, industry and households is very much under the spotlight today. Yet we also breathe in harmful substances inside our home – or at the office. Manufacturers of building materials must comply with national and European guide values for these so-called VOCs. And this will soon apply to furniture and consumer products as well. VITO has a long tradition in this area, both in terms of measuring these emissions and in terms of compliance with national legislation and with voluntary product labels.

Air pollution has been receiving a great deal of attention in Flanders for several months now. It is much less well known that we also come into contact with (potentially) harmful chemical substances indoors – at home in the living room or bedroom, or at the office. In fact, while the (most significant) pollutants in the open air can be counted on one hand, a wide range of chemical substances float around the average house – 180 of which appear in the EU-LCI list, so substances to keep an eye on. These substances – referred to as volatile organic compounds VOCs) – escape from building materials such as glue, processed wood and linoleum, or from interior objects such as furniture and even (scented) candles.

80 % of the time indoors

“Everyone is talking about clean atmospheric air today,” says Marc Lor of VITO, “but we hardly hear anything about the substances we breathe in when we’re at home. Yet on average we spend eighty per cent of our time there. And you should know that this is actually an overall package, because outside air also comes in along with all the pollution that it already contains.

Guide values currently apply to building materials such as floor coverings and glues in Europe, the so-called EU-LCI list. What the toxicological combination effect of all these VOCs is, is still largely unknown. Lor: “But we do know from basic substances such as formaldehyde and benzene that they are harmful, even carcinogenic. Others could also increase the risk of allergies, for example. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to determine the effect of VOCs on our health. You can focus on one substance in toxicological studies, but then you miss the ‘cocktail effect’ of a mixture of dozens of substances, something that reflects reality much more accurately.

For years VITO has been taking measurements regarding the emissions of all kinds of products on behalf of both authorities and companies. And its customer portfolio is constantly expanding, not only because VITO has suitable measurement technology, but also because it helps customers with compliance – with legislation and other rules and regulations – in other countries, both inside and outside Europe. “If a company wants to know the emission levels of a specific hazardous substance, it would also like to know whether it complies with the regulations in the countries to which it exports,” says Jeroen Van Deun. We monitor this closely at VITO. Moreover, we are also well aware of all product labels that exist, both domestically and abroad. This is all too complicated for most companies, and we have noticed that this is another reason why they like to turn to us.

VITO’s expertise in the field of emission measurement is acknowledged not only by its customers, but also by its competitors. For example, VITO recently became the exclusive partner in Europe (for VOC emission testing) of the large US company Underwriters Laboratories (UL), a leading international company that is the undisputed market leader in the testing of hazardous substances.