Using and managing solvents

Pollution prevention and control permits for solvent emissions


If you use solvents in your business, you may need a pollution prevention and control (PPC) permit from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) or your district council before you can operate. For example, you may need a permit if you use solvents in:

  • printing
  • surface cleaning metals and other materials
  • coating or laminating materials such as metal, plastic, textiles, paper and wood
  • manufacturing paints, varnishes, inks and adhesives
  • manufacturing pharmaceutical products
  • manufacturing footwear
  • dry cleaning
  • rubber conversion
  • refining or extracting vegetable oil
  • impregnating wood

Comply with your permit

If you have a PPC permit you must comply with the conditions it contains. These will reduce or control your emissions of organic solvents (volatile organic compounds (VOCs)).

Your permit will contain details of limits on your solvent emissions and how and when these must be met. For example, you may choose to follow a solvent reduction scheme and you may have limits imposed on specific substances, or you may have limits associated with your production units, such as 25 grams of organic solvent per pair of shoes manufactured.

Your permit will also specify:

  • any abatement equipment required
  • any monitoring and reporting requirements that you must comply with
  • other measures to control solvent emissions, such as handling and storing materials correctly
  • any controls or limits on releasing solvents to land or to groundwater

If you have a permit, you must produce a solvent management plan and submit it to the NIEA or your district council. The solvent management plan must show your annual solvent consumption and that you comply with the emission limits in your permit. It must include any calculations you make.

If you already have a permit and it doesn't contain conditions controlling your solvent emissions, you must contact the NIEA or your district council immediately.

If you don't comply with the conditions in your permit, you could be prosecuted.

Even if you don't need a permit, you should manage your solvent emissions and reduce your solvent use - see the pages in this guide on managing your solvents efficiently and reducing solvent use in production and cleaning processes. Your business needs to be aware if you are close to the thresholds for requiring a permit.

Using harmful substances

There are additional requirements if you use:

  • halogenated VOCs which have been assigned the risk phrase R40 or R68, or the hazard statements H341 or H351
  • VOCs which carry the risk phrases R45, R46, R49, R60 or R61, or the hazard statements H340, H350, H350i, H360D or H360F - all of these have been classified as carcinogenic, mutagenic or toxic to reproduction

Risk phrases are used to classify dangerous substances. A system of numbers relates to short descriptions that tell you about the substance's dangerous properties. From 2010 to 2015, risk phrases will be replaced by hazard statements. During this period both risk phrases and hazard statements will apply.

You can find out if a solvent has any risk phrases or hazard statements by checking the safety data sheet (SDS) that comes with it. Your supplier must provide you with the SDS under the requirements of the REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals) Regulation. If you receive any solvents without an SDS, contact your supplier and ask for it. Read about risk and safety phrase information on the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) website.

If you use VOCs which carry the risk phrases R45, R46, R49, R60 or R61, or the hazard statements H340, H350, H350i, H360D or H360F, you must replace them as soon as possible with less harmful alternatives.

If it is not possible to replace them you must:

  • contain and control emissions
  • meet very strict emission limits
  • regularly reassess the possibility of replacement

For further details, read the process guidance notes relevant to your business' activities.