More than 1,000 products damage air quality that we were unaware of

Citizens see the three biggest sources of pollution in Serbia in industry, traffic and household heating, but driving a car or lighting an individual fireplace is not the only way we contribute to the deterioration of air quality. Every time we use cosmetics, deodorants, detergents, fabric softeners or cleaning agents at home, we release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air we breathe.

It is estimated that these compounds are found in about 1,000 products that we use every day, and the list includes cigarettes, car cosmetics, air fresheners, glues, and many others. Do we know enough about them?

In a survey conducted together with the Faculty of Technology and Metallurgy as part of the project "Implementation of European Legislation in the Field of Emissions of Volatile Organic Compounds" funded by the Embassy of the Kingdom of Norway, as many as three quarters of citizens answered that they knew about these compounds and almost 90% recognized that they are produced in production of varnishes and glues, while a third gave wrong answers. Similarly, 60% of respondents clarified that these compounds affect the formation of smog, but they also stated that they affect the increase of the so-called of suspended particles, which indicates that additional education is needed.

- Volatile compounds appear as one of the main air pollutants in the modern world, in addition to suspended particles, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, ammonia and methane, which are monitored most often. What is problematic is that they are responsible for the formation of fine suspended particles PM2.5, the inhalation of which causes serious consequences for human health. Therefore, it is necessary to limit their movement in the air within the permitted values ​​provided by law - points out Slobodan Krstović, director for sustainable development at NALED.

VOC compounds are dangerous because they evaporate at room temperature, so they are very present in the air, but they are not only created by using the product. Emissions of these compounds also occur in the production process, with the use of organic solvents (printing, chemical cleaning, production of paints and varnishes, building materials).

In the NALED survey, half of the citizens stated that they recognize the pictogram for VOC on the product label and that it indicates a product hazardous to health, but it is more likely that in practice a smaller percentage can "use" their knowledge about VOC emissions. The positive thing is that 75% of respondents know some of the ways by which the harmful impact can be reduced - such as less use of aggressive chemicals, avoiding the use of acetone, varnishes, hair sprays, air fresheners, i.e. using cosmetics based on natural materials and water-based colors.

It is also interesting that only 40% of citizens stated that they always or often read the labels on household products, and a third of them generally do not buy a product if they judge that it has a harmful effect on human health and the environment.

About 350 VOC operators are currently active in Serbia, primarily companies that use substances containing volatile compounds in the production process, and the key document for their business is the Regulation, which lists the activities in which the evaporation of VOC compounds occurs, as well as the measures that are they need to take to monitor the amount of vapors and keep them within the allowed values.

- Effective mechanisms that would greatly contribute to these compounds harming air quality as little as possible are changes in the production process, elimination of dangerous substances, as well as the transition to green technologies. It is necessary to continue working on harmonizing national regulations with the EU Industrial Emissions Directive and strengthening the administrative capacities of competent authorities. NALED's Alliance for Environmental Protection also prepared an analysis of environmental fiscal instruments and presented their role in reducing air pollution. The analysis resulted in proposals for improving the calculation of fees for environmental protection and improvement, fees for environmental pollution, as well as taxes in the field of transport and in the field of energy in order to fully apply the "polluter pays" principle - explains Krstović.

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