02 May 2023

Understanding the Volatile Organic Compound Concentration Limits for Certain Products Regulations in Canada

The global regulatory landscape is changing and governments are taking greater action to protect human health and the environment. Are companies prepared to comply with Canada's unique set of VOC regulations?

What are Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)?

VOCs are a family of organic compounds that contain one or more carbon atoms and have high vapor pressures such that they evaporate readily into the atmosphere. These include compounds that participate in atmospheric photochemical reactions that cause harm to human health and the environment. These precursor pollutants contribute to forming ground-level ozone and fine particulate matter (PM2.5), the main constituents of smog.

How does Canada define VOCs?

Under Schedule 1 of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA), VOCs are defined as compounds that participate in atmospheric photochemical reactions. Item 65 of Schedule 1 of the CEPA provides the instances of exclusion which can be found on the government's website at Toxic substances list: schedule 1 - Canada.ca

What action has Canada taken?

Specific products, including aerosol coatings, architectural coatings, automotive refinishing products, cutback asphalt, emulsified asphalt, and printing and inks, among others, are a major source of VOC emissions and have been specified in the Canadian regulations.

Canada has taken the following action to regulate such products:

  • In 2009, the Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) Concentration Limits for Automotive Refinishing Products Regulations and the Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) Concentration Limits for Architectural Coatings Regulations were published.
  • In 2017, stronger ambient air quality standards were introduced for nitrogen oxides and sulphur dioxide, along with the publication of the Code of Practice for the Reduction of Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) Emissions from Cutback and Emulsified Asphalt.
  • On January 5, 2022, the Volatile Organic Compound Concentration Limits for Certain Products Regulations were published. The regulation establishes VOC concentration limits for approximately 130 product categories and subcategories including personal care, automotive, cleaning and household maintenance products, adhesives, adhesive removers, sealants and caulks, and other miscellaneous products.

What do I need to know about the Volatile Organic Compound Concentration Limits for Certain Products Regulations?

It's important to know whether your products fall under the defined categories pertaining to VOCs. Product categories and limits can be found in Schedules 1 and 2 of the Regulations. (Certain products and volatile organic compounds - Canada.ca)

If one or more of your products fall under the categories and limits, you will need to note the following implementation dates for the Regulations:                                                            

  • January 1, 2023: companies can start applying for alternative compliance options including permits
  • January 1, 2024: limits in effect for all products (except disinfectants)
  • January 1, 2025: limit in effect for disinfectants

The Regulations outline nuances for products that fit into more than one category or that are concentrated, and additional labelling requirements and reporting obligations in certain cases. They also outline exclusions for products including, but not limited to, those manufactured or imported for export only, and adhesives sold in containers of 30 mL or less.

Record keeping is important according to the Regulations. Records and supporting documents must be kept at the principal place of business in Canada for 5 years. Manufacturers and importers must keep records, and while the requirements differ, they include such information as the quantity of product manufactured at each plant, the date of manufacture, and the product's common or generic name as well as trademark and trade name.

Compliance Options

The Regulations include 3 alternative compliance options for flexibility in complying with the Regulations. These include:

    • Permit – Technical or Economic Non-Feasibility. The company must provide evidence that meeting the requirements for their product is not feasible. They must also provide measures to ensure that the product will meet the limit once the permit expires, and a timeline for full implementation which must be no longer than 2 years. These permits are valid for 2 years from issue date and can be renewed once for up to an additional 2 years.
    • Permit – Product Whose Use Results in Lower VOC Emissions. The company must provide evidence that use of the product results in lower VOC emissions than a comparable product as a result of product design, formulation, delivery, etc. Trade name, concentration, product category, and quantities manufactured/imported are required as part of the submission. These permits are valid for up to 4 years from issue date and can be renewed.
    • Permit and Credit – VOC Compliance Unit Trading System (CUTS). This program allows companies to trade compliance units with other companies. A company can earn compliance units for products reformulated and they can be transferred to other companies or purchased to offset emissions from products that exceed regulatory limits. Permits issued for those that exceed limits are canceled if emissions are not balanced. Units are based on a calendar year and the Minister of the Environment must be notified if companies are trading units. There is a process for generating and using units.

Need Assistance?

Do you have questions about this topic or a related topic? Intertek's team of experts can help. Contact us with your questions and business needs.

Link to Regulations and Codes of Practice:

Certain products and volatile organic compounds - Canada.ca

Automotive refinishing products and volatile organic compounds - Canada.ca

Architectural coatings products and volatile organic compounds - Canada.ca

Code of practice: reduction of VOC emissions from cutback and emulsified asphalt - Canada.ca


Kal Bening Intertek headshot

Kal Bening, 
Senior Regulatory Manager, Chemicals Group,
Intertek Assuris

Today's expert blogger is Kal Bening. Kal is a Regulatory Manager and has been at Intertek for 19 years. Working with numerous clients, Kal's primary focus and role include providing clients with timely and cost-effective regulatory strategies under the various new and existing chemical notification programs.  Her breadth of expertise centers around providing regulatory and scientific advice to clients to promote compliance with the New Substances Notification Regulations (NSNR) under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA), the Australian Industrial Chemicals Introduction Scheme (AICIS) , and other similar initiatives around the world in countries such as China and South Korea.  Kal attended the University of Toronto where she received a B.S. in Integrative Biology & Environmental Sciences.

You may be interested in...