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Indoor air quality lab helps European manufacturers address harmful VOCs

June 19, 2018

With the increasing complexity of the regulatory landscape in Europe and around the world, there is a growing need for volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions testing and validation.

No matter their origin, the products used to build and furnish indoor environments can have a significant impact on indoor air pollution levels given the presence of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). In fact, various consumer products which emit harmful chemicals into the air were already reported on RAPEX (the European Commission’s Rapid Alert System for dangerous non-food products).

Now, European manufacturers won’t have to travel far to understand better and address any potentially harmful concentrations of VOCs emitted by their products in indoor environments. That’s because UL recently opened a new VOC testing lab in Italy to serve the region’s many manufacturers. The new lab celebrates another milestone in addition to the VOC testing labs UL operates in the United States and China.

“The time was right to expand our VOC testing capabilities into Europe,” said Giuseppe Barisan, European GM of UL Environment business. “We are now able to serve better European manufacturers who want to help ensure their products meet the chemical emission requirements of Europe as well as for countries all over the world where they export.”

Beyond the door

This ISO 17025 accredited facility houses state-of-the-art dynamic environmental chambers used to test for VOCs emitted from products down to the parts per billion (ppb) level. The lab contains seven chambers ranging in size from 90 liters, the smallest and suitable for testing cleaning products or construction materials, to 6 cubic meters, the largest with the capacity to fit a chair or small office furniture.

The testing chambers are closed environments with defined conditions. The amount of time a product stays in the chamber – anywhere from several hours to several days – depends on its assigned testing scheme, which is determined by the type of product being tested. Once a product, such as building material or paint, is put into the chamber, we sample the air from the chamber and measure the amount of off-gassed VOCs.

“Particleboard is a great example, as many people recognize the smell of opening new products made from it,” explained Dr. Anne Bonhoff, principal chemist for UL Consumer business. “That smell might be actually formaldehyde, gassing off from the product when it’s new. In our testing chamber, we capture the air containing those chemicals, pull it out and test it to see how high the levels are and if they’re safe for human interaction within indoor environments.”

Potentially harmful exposure

Formaldehyde is just one well-known example of a potentially harmful VOC that can be released over time from materials present inside houses, offices, schools and other indoor living environments. Some people may still be unaware that as they spend most of their time indoors, they face significant health risks due to repeated exposure to air pollutants. This prolonged exposure could lead to numerous immediate and long-term health problems, including asthma, headaches and allergy attacks.

That’s why it is so important that products get tested.

The Cabiate facility can conduct emissions testing on a wide range of products from furnishings to construction materials, and in accordance with the most common international standards (link to website).

And, they are in the process of expanding their testing capabilities to European standards as well.

Customized testing and solutions

Whether a manufacturer has a health risk assessment or product development needs to help ensure products are low emitting early in the process, the lab can evaluate the strictest requirement and test for those.

“In fact, we offer customized product emissions testing and solutions to save manufacturers time and money and enable them to access any market,” added Barisan.

“For a long time, the conversation in Europe, and all over the world, focused heavily on outdoor air pollution, but not enough on the quality of the air indoors, where we spend more than 90 percent of our time and where indoor air pollutants are two to five times higher than outdoors,” said Bonhoff.

“By testing both the physical and now chemical safety of products, the work we’re doing here really reflects our mission of helping to create safer environments everywhere for people around the world,” Barisan concluded.