Organic solvents used in chemical manufacturing produce emissions that can harm the environment and human health.
Organic solvents are volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are chemicals that easily vaporise at room temperature and may be harmful if inhaled. They are used for a variety of purposes including:
- dissolving materials
- manufacturing products such as paints, adhesives, inks, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and toiletries and pesticides
- extracting natural essences for manufacturing essential oils
Check if you need a permit
If you use organic solvents, you may require a pollution prevention and control permit from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) or your district council. If you have a permit you must comply with its conditions, which may require you to reduce or control your solvent emissions.
You will need a permit for solvent emissions if you use:
- more than 100 tonnes per year of a solvent-based product for manufacturing coating preparations, varnishes, inks and adhesives
- more than 50 tonnes per year of a solvent-based product for manufacturing pharmaceutical products
Controls on solvent limits
If you manufacture, import, distribute or sell paints, varnishes or vehicle refinishing products you must comply with controls on the amount of solvents (VOCs) that these products can contain - see solvent limits in paints and varnishes and solvent limits in vehicle refinishing products.
Prevent water pollution from solvents
You must not allow solvents to enter surface water drains, surface waters, the ground or groundwater. This causes pollution and you could be prosecuted.
If you intend to discharge solvents to the foul sewer, you must have an authorisation from NI Water.
Ozone-depleting substances (ODS) and fluorinated greenhouse gases (F-gases) in solvents
You must not use solvents containing ODS.
Solvents which contain F-gases that have a high potential to cause global warming are restricted. You must never allow F-gas solvents to vent directly to the air or be discharged directly into drains.
If you operate equipment that contains F-gas solvents you must ensure the solvents are recovered properly during servicing, maintenance and at the end of the equipment's life. This must be done by someone with the correct qualifications - see solvent cleaning: F-gas and ODS controls.
To reduce the risk of spills or leaks from using or storing solvents you should:
- locate, use and maintain storage facilities as you would other chemicals storage facilities - see storing chemicals
- check the condition of your containers regularly
- avoid using underground storage tanks (USTs) - contact the NIEA for advice if you already store solvents in USTs
To reduce solvent use during production and processing you should:
- keep containers closed when you are not using them - this may also save you money by reducing loss of materials through evaporation
- use properly covered or closed mixing vessels - you could consider fully enclosed mixing systems
- pass the vessel mixer shaft through the smallest hole possible
- ensure all equipment seals fit properly and are in good condition
- use a piped or pumped system to introduce materials into mixing vessels rather than chutes
- use automatic metering - this will help you obtain accurate quantities
- use computer-controlled dispensing systems to avoid overfilling product containers
- reuse or recover your waste solvents - ask your supplier if they offer a solvent reclamation service
To reduce the risk of harmful chemical emissions you should:
- regularly review the solvents you use to determine if there are lower VOC alternatives
- fit mixing vessel lids with interlocks so you can switch off your extraction system when the lid is closed
- fit condensers to mixing vessel extraction systems - you may be able to reuse vapours