Worried about pollutants from paint? Govt may regulate emissions for indoor products, furnishings

The spread of Covid-19 due to poor ventilation has led the Government and many businesses to tackle the issue. PHOTO: SINGAPORE BUSINESS FEDERATION

SINGAPORE – The Government will “very seriously” consider recommendations by industry leaders to set formaldehyde emission limits in building products and household furnishings, said Minister for Sustainability and the Environment Grace Fu on Wednesday.

Formaldehyde is found in adhesives, composite wood and paint, which are used in some indoor products like cabinets. The pungent pollutant, commonly found in these items, releases particles that are hazardous to health at high levels of exposure and can result in cancer after long periods of time.

Ms Fu was speaking at the official launch of guidelines and recommendations by the Alliance for Action on Sustainable Spaces to ensure that air breathed indoors is cleaner and greener.

They were developed in consultation with industry stakeholders by the alliance, which was initiated by the Singapore Business Federation (SBF), Singapore Furniture Industries Council (SFIC) and Singapore Green Building Council in November 2021.

Under the alliance’s proposal for regulation, companies will have to submit test reports for all products for certification before sale and provide proof that the goods sold meet emissions limits.

These guidelines come as the spread of Covid-19 due to poor ventilation and poor air quality led the Government and many businesses to tackle the issue.

Among them was C&W Services, where the official launch was held. The firm, the facilities and engineering arm of global real estate services firm Cushman & Wakefield, remodelled its office in Chai Chee between October 2021 and March 2022 to monitor and maintain good indoor air quality.

Said Ms Fu: “It is through Covid-19 that we realised how to deal with ventilation, what’s the right spacing… what’s the right rate of exchange of the air?”

The alliance said on Wednesday that as people spend about 90 per cent of time indoors, poor indoor air quality poses a health risk.

But before accepting the alliance’s recommendation to put in place regulations, the Government will need to consider criteria, including the level at which emissions should be considered harmful, and which parties should be regulated.

Said Ms Fu: “Regulation doesn’t ensure that standards are followed all the time; we need to follow up with inspection and enforcement.

“So we have to think through all levers for policymaking before we can arrive at a decision, but this is something we are seriously looking at.”

She was responding to concerns that the guidelines are voluntary and lack regulatory teeth at a fireside chat session with more than 40 members of the alliance and industry stakeholders.

The guidelines are to adopt emission limits for products and indoor furnishings, keep local standards for good indoor air quality, acquire certifications that recognise efforts to maintain good indoor air quality, implement workplace safety and health guidelines, and monitor indoor air quality.

Other recommendations are incentivising the industry to create and adopt low-emitting products, as well as fostering greater industry-public collaboration.

Supported by the Building and Construction Authority and National Environment Agency, the alliance also aims to help the industry seize opportunities in the green economy and support the Singapore Green Plan 2030.

SBF chairman Lim Ming Yan said the new guidelines will help fill the gap in existing guidelines for air quality in buildings, which might not cover situations where tenants conduct their own renovation after a building is constructed.

Citing his experience as the former president and group chief officer of CapitaLand, he added: “In that process of additional renovation, sometimes if the users or tenants are not aware of the type of materials that they are using, it may compromise the indoor air quality.”

SFIC president Phua Boon Huat said the council had committed last April to supplying or adopting low- or no-formaldehyde products and solutions.

“These new industry guidelines would mean the public and consumers will be able to enjoy cleaner and greener urban indoor spaces in future,” he noted.

“Moving forward, we would like to advocate for industry players to opt for cleaner, safer materials in their offerings and designs.”

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