VOCs a hot topic

20 December 2017

Some years ago, regulators became aware that formaldehyde was a potentially dangerous substance. Statutory limits followed soon after. Lowemission panels are now the norm.

VOCs today occupy the position that formaldehyde did then. VOC, of course, stands for Volatile Organic Compounds, and concerns have been raised about their possible effects on human health; regulations to limit emissions of VOCs cannot be far away.

Wood based panels emit a range of VOCs; so, of course, does wood itself. The fact that natural living things emit them is not a valid reason to ignore them. VOCs are a topic that the wood based panels industry must take seriously. They may prove an altogether harder nut to crack than formaldehyde.

One reason is that, unlike with formaldehyde, no single substance is involved but a huge grouping of compounds – over a thousand of them – in different and varying proportions. Even measuring VOC concentrations is problematic. Different protocols will measure different groupings of compounds and give different answers as to air quality.

Few people know much about them and very few of those people indeed are in the panel industry. This situation must change.

Academic research is required – and it will have to be collaborative academic research involving many institutions, from many countries, and many disciplines.

COST (Collaboration in Science and Technology) is an EU-funded programme which pays for exactly those kinds of interdisciplinary research networks across Europe and beyond. At the IPPS conference in Llandudno in October - see page 52 - an application for project funding under COST into VOCs was discussed in depth. This would be a network project bringing scientists together across Europe and across disciplines to address the topic. Health academics, chemistry academics, wood technology academics, would all have their parts to play.

Academics, however, are not enough. In the formaldehyde case it was industry that developed alternative resins, investigated scavengers and adopted new methods and practices to deliver safer, better products.

Similarly, industry should be involved in bettering our understanding of VOCs.

A COST action network, therefore, should not be limited to academia but should have input from the panel industry. At the IPPS conference an appeal was made for industry input into shaping the COST application. If you are part of the panel industry, and would like also to be part of this important research network, contact Martin Ohlmeyer of the Thünen Institute of Wood Research, who is co-ordinating the effort at martin.ohlmeyer@theunen.de. The industry, and the products it makes, will be the better for it.