Understanding Canada’s VOC regulations

July 1, 2012

All images courtesy WR Meadows[1]
All images courtesy WR Meadows

By Dianne Carey, CSI, CDT
For years, the phrase ‘volatile organic compounds (VOCs)’ has been associated with issues such as smog, greenhouse gases (GHGs), air pollution, and ozone layer depletion. Still, many Canadian design professionals are not overly familiar with the specific regulations limiting VOC release into the atmosphere. Even more problematically, many are not sure how these rules have an impact on common building products.

When released into the air, VOCs photochemically react with nitrogen oxides (NOX) found in the atmosphere to form ground-level ozone and particulates. The more VOCs released into the atmosphere, the more ground-level ozone and particulates are produced, resulting in increased ozone formation.

At ground level, ozone is considered one of the primary components of smog. In basic terms:

VOCs + NOx + Sunlight = Ozone
Ozone + Particulates = Smog

In addition to having a negative impact on air quality, these emissions and the resulting smog formation can also be a significant health concern. Exposure to VOCs and smog may contribute to numerous adverse health effects, including:

Exposure to excessive smog can also exacerbate existing medical conditions such as asthma.

A common misconception is all harmful VOCs released into the atmosphere come from the transportation sector (e.g. car/truck exhaust). However, these emissions can come from either synthetic or natural sources, both indoors and out. VOCs found inside buildings include those released by products and materials used, installed, or applied in the built environment.

With each passing generation, the quantity of VOCs emitted into the atmosphere continues to increase at a staggering rate. Beyond regulating VOCs from transportation/exhaust sources, governments and regulatory agencies worldwide now find it necessary to place limits on emissions from both consumer and industrial products.

Numerous jurisdictions have enacted VOC restrictions on consumer products such as aerosols, hair sprays, deodorants, air fresheners, and household cleaners. Additionally, many jurisdictions have now also passed regulations limiting VOCs on commercial and industrial products such as architectural coatings and paints, adhesives, and sealants.

Volatile organic compound (VOC) restrictions across North America.[2]
Volatile organic compound (VOC) restrictions across North America.

Regulating VOCs
In 1999, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued the Architectural and Industrial Maintenance (AIM) Coatings Rule. ‘Architectural coatings’ are defined as paints, stains, varnishes, lacquers, and primers applied to stationary structures or traffic surfaces.

Both the United States and Canada now have enacted national or federal architectural coatings VOC regulations that govern their respective countries. The U.S. AIM Rule was enacted to restrict VOC emissions on a national/federal level and in areas of the United States not already governed by another regional, state, or local regulation. The map in Figure 1 illustrates the areas in North America that currently have regulations restricting VOCs on architectural coatings. There are also numerous coatings VOC regulations found worldwide, including China, Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, and the European Union (except Luxemburg).

Along with the consumer product and architectural coating VOC regulations, there are numerous U.S. jurisdictions that have also implemented regulations restricting VOC emissions on adhesive and sealant products. The Ozone Transport Commission (OTC) region (i.e. northeastern states, excluding Massachusetts and Vermont), certain air districts in California, and Washington, D.C., currently have region-specific adhesive and sealant VOC regulations. Currently, there are no federal or national adhesive and sealant regulations in North America.

Understanding national, provincial, and local rules regarding VOCs is critical for properly specifying and using products such as this non-yellowing curing and sealing compound.[3]
Understanding national, provincial, and local rules regarding VOCs is critical for properly specifying and using products such as this non-yellowing curing and sealing compound.

VOCs and Canada
In September 1999, Environment Canada passed into law the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA), aimed at “respecting pollution prevention and the protection of the environment and human health in order to contribute to sustainable development.” After its introduction, studies indicated implementation of an architectural coatings VOC regulation could significantly reduce the VOCs being emitted.

At the time, Environment Canada determined the federal U.S. AIM regulation was too lax in some of the product categories. At the same time, the more stringent VOC requirements found in some of the California air districts were too restrictive, given the colder Canadian climate and levels of smog and pollution present at that time.

Additional investigations indicated the OTC rule specific to the northeast United States would be the most appropriate regulation after which to model a future Canadian rule. The similar weather conditions found in the OTC states, along with the potential benefit of having alike VOC requirements in regions close in proximity, were two persuading factors.

Once the specifics of the proposed Canadian regulation had been decided on, additional studies determined that the amount of improvement expected with the implementation of such a regulation. In 2005, Environment Canada estimated 51 kilotonnes of VOCs were being emitted into the atmosphere from architectural coatings throughout the country. By enacting the architectural coatings VOC regulation, Environment Canada estimated that they could reduce this amount by approximately 28 per cent. (For more information, visit www.gazette.gc.ca/rp-pr/p1/2008/2008-04-26/html/reg1-eng.html[4]).

Applied in residential applications, this curing and sealing compound complies with current Canadian volatile organic compound (VOC) regulations. It is spray-applied to seal stamped concrete.[5]
Applied in residential applications, this curing and sealing compound complies with current Canadian volatile organic compound (VOC) regulations. It is spray-applied to seal stamped concrete.

In September 2009, a decade after CEPA, the Minister of the Environment enacted the Canadian Architectural Coatings VOC Regulation. In Canada, an architectural coating is defined as:

a product to be applied onto or impregnated into a substrate, for use on traffic surfaces such as streets and highways, curbs, berms, driveways, parking lots, sidewalks and airport runways, or stationary structures, including temporary buildings and their appurtenances, whether installed or detached. (To read more, visit www.gazette.gc.ca/rp-pr/p2/2009/2009-09-30/html/sor-dors264-eng.html[6]).

The regulation sets mandatory, maximum allowable VOC concentration limits for 53 categories of architectural coatings and governs any such products manufactured, imported, sold, or offered for sale in all Canadian provinces and territories. Figure 2 provides an example of some of the product categories.

VOC product limits.[7]
VOC product limits.

Coming into force
The Canadian Architectural Coatings VOC Regulation includes a table column titled, “Regulations Come into Force.” Listed as “1st,” “2nd,” “3rd,” etc., this value is the corresponding anniversary date (from the date the regulation was enacted) on which the VOC rule for that specific product category will be enforced. For example, a category that “comes into force” on the first anniversary would take effect on the first anniversary of the date the regulation was originally passed into law (September 9, 2009), which would make it enforceable on September 9, 2010. A category that takes effect on the second anniversary would have an enforcement date of September 9, 2011.

The fact there is not just a single, encompassing enforcement date for all product categories is considered by many to be the most confusing aspect of the regulation. Manufacturers, design/construction professionals, and users alike need to be extremely diligent about ensuring the products they are manufacturing, specifying, and using are in compliance with the regulation.

Enforcement dates.[8]
Enforcement dates.

Figure 3 is a complete listing of the anniversary dates with the corresponding enforcement dates. Taking the same product categories used earlier, Figure 4 shows the actual dates when products in those categories must meet the respective VOC requirement.

VOC calculation/excluded compounds
VOCs must be calculated using U.S. EPA Method 24, Determination of Volatile Matter Content, not counting the volume of any water and excluded (i.e. exempt) compounds. VOC-excluded compounds are those with fewer tendencies to react photochemically in the atmosphere. For this reason, they are not included as VOC-contributing in a coating formulation/product. While CEPA currently lists numerous compounds as being VOC-excluded, the three most common—found in paint and coating formulations—are acetone, parachlorobenzotrifluoride (PCBTF), and tert-butyl acetate (TBAc).

Products that have been re-formulated with VOC-excluded compounds can have very different physical and performance properties than products made with the typical, VOC-contributing solvents. Reformulated, lower VOC products can also be much more difficult to apply, and have different handling properties due to extremely fast evaporation rates. At times, new application equipment (e.g. sprayers, nozzles, and tips) must be used to achieve proper appearance and performance of new, reformulated, VOC-compliant products.

Products and “deadlines.”[9]
Products and “deadlines.”

Lower VOC products, using these exempt compounds, also have a much lower flash point; this means they are classified as ‘flammable.’ This classification forces such products to be increasingly regulated, more hazardous, and more expensive to ship.

Alternative compliance
Instead of meeting the current VOC requirements, manufacturers and importers can request a permit from Environment Canada to allow a product to be made or sold when there is evidence it is not technically or economically feasible at the time of the permit application to reduce the VOC to acceptable levels. The permit applicant must present a plan to the Minister of the Environment that identifies steps that will be taken to ultimately meet the VOC requirement.

The time allowed for compliance cannot exceed four years from the initial issue date of the permit. Further, Environment Canada can deny a permit if there are doubts as to whether the information provided is true and factual, and if insufficient information is provided with the permit application.

Name[10]Stop manufacture/import and sell-through
The Canadian Architectural Coatings VOC Regulation includes a general sell-through period for most product categories, which ends later this year on September 9. By definition, the majority of products needed to be manufactured and physically present in Canada by this date and can be sold through this point. The exceptions include:

These products have an extended sell-through date of September 9, 2014.

Sell-through dates are typically added to regulations to provide manufacturers and users time to ‘use up’ products not meeting the VOC requirement. These extended dates can also give manufacturers additional time to reformulate VOC-compliant products, as needed. In conjunction with industry, regulators had determined that without sell-through date provisions to the regulation, both manufacturers and end-users might face disposal of a significant volume of coatings no longer in compliance.

Most-restrictive limit
The regulation also states if a product meets the definition of more than one category, or can be used for more than one type of application, then the most-restrictive requirement will apply. Again, it is extremely critical both manufacturers and end-users determine the proper category for VOC compliance.

This exposed aggregate walkway has been cured and sealed with a VOC-compliant product.[11]
This exposed aggregate walkway has been cured and sealed with a VOC-compliant product.

The ‘most-restrictive’ provision of the regulation does not apply to the following coating categories:

Dilution, multiple components, and labelling
If products are to be diluted before use, then specific instructions need to be included on the container label, or must accompany the product in the form of a technical data sheet. The VOC reported for the product is to be listed as “as-used” or “after-dilution.” The same requirement applies to multiple-component products—the proper VOC level reported is for the ‘mixed’ product, rather than individual components.

Additional provisions of the regulation include labeling requirements. The date the coating was manufactured (or a representative code) must be included on the product container or label. For products needing dilution with solvents other than water, instructions need to be present. For those that do not need dilution, a statement the product is to be applied without thinning must be stated on the container’s label or lid. (These examples are a short overview of labelling/container requirements. One should refer to the official regulation for a complete listing of labeling/container needs.)

When specifying products, it is important to not only consider VOC content, but also appropriate performance. This finished cured and sealed walkway, in the Southern United States, was specifically designed to withstand heavy pedestrian traffic.[12]
When specifying products, it is important to not only consider VOC content, but also appropriate performance. This finished cured
and sealed walkway, in the Southern United States, was specifically designed to withstand heavy pedestrian traffic.

Exempted products
While the regulation currently governs several specific categories of architectural coating products manufactured, imported, or sold in Canada, there are some exceptions. They include:

Small containers
The architectural coatings VOC regulation also offers an exemption for certain products when the container size is 1 L (0.2 gal) or less. They include:

Record-Keeping[13]Enforcement and challenges ahead
The same enforcement officers ensuring compliance with CEPA are ultimately responsible for enforcement of the Canadian Architectural Coatings VOC Regulation. Officers will determine the appropriate enforcement action, depending on the nature of the violation. These can range from warnings and environmental protection compliance orders to ticketing, injunctions, and prosecution. ( For more information, visit www.gazette.gc.ca/rp-pr/p2/2009/2009-09-30/html/sor-dors264-eng.html[6]).

Although Canada’s VOC regulation was initially implemented in September 2009, there are still several challenges manufacturers and end-users will face as they attempt to comply with all facets of the regulation. Full knowledge of the regulation as it relates to specific product categories is critical not only for manufacturers and importers, but also design/construction professionals specifying or using architectural coating products.

Dianne Carey, CSI, CDT, is the director of technical services for W.R. Meadows[14], a manufacturer of concrete construction liquids, waterproofing products, air and vapour barriers, and cementitious repair/restoration products. A chemist, she researches and develops concrete curing compounds, sealers, and penetrating water repellants. Carey is an active member of the American Concrete Institute (ACI), ASTM International, Construction Specifications Institute (CSI), and the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). She can be contacted at dcarey@wrmeadows.com.

  1. [Image]: http://www.constructioncanada.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/coatings_StampedConcreteRoller075.jpg
  2. [Image]: http://www.constructioncanada.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/f1.jpg
  3. [Image]: http://www.constructioncanada.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/coatings_CS-309.jpg
  4. www.gazette.gc.ca/rp-pr/p1/2008/2008-04-26/html/reg1-eng.html: http://www.gazette.gc.ca/rp-pr/p1/2008/2008-04-26/html/reg1-eng.html
  5. [Image]: http://www.constructioncanada.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/coatings_StampedConcrete_spray.jpg
  6. www.gazette.gc.ca/rp-pr/p2/2009/2009-09-30/html/sor-dors264-eng.html: http://www.gazette.gc.ca/rp-pr/p2/2009/2009-09-30/html/sor-dors264-eng.html
  7. [Image]: http://www.constructioncanada.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/f2.jpg
  8. [Image]: http://www.constructioncanada.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/f3.jpg
  9. [Image]: http://www.constructioncanada.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/f4.jpg
  10. [Image]: http://www.constructioncanada.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Name.jpg
  11. [Image]: http://www.constructioncanada.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/coatings_FrontSteps.jpg
  12. [Image]: http://www.constructioncanada.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/coatings_finished-walkway.jpg
  13. [Image]: http://www.constructioncanada.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Record-Keeping.jpg
  14. W.R. Meadows: https://www.wrmeadows.com

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