Chemicals management

Development of a National Standard for Environmental Risk Management of Industrial Chemicals

Environment Ministers from the Commonwealth and all states and territories met in July 2015 and have agreed to establish a National Standard for the environmental risk management of industrial chemicals, in accordance with the preferred option outlined in the Decision Regulation Impact Statement (DRIS), which was considered by Ministers.

The National Standard will streamline regulation of industrial chemicals, enabling a more consistent, efficient, and effective approach to environmental risk management of industrial chemicals across all jurisdictions.

Chemicals are a vital part of our daily life. They provide society with a wide range of benefits, particularly increased industrial and agricultural productivity and improvements in the control of disease. On the other hand, some chemicals have the potential to cause considerable health and environmental problems throughout their lifecycle, from production through to disposal, if they are not appropriately managed.

To ensure that chemicals are managed safely to protect the environment and human health, the Department:

  • Undertakes environmental risk assessments of industrial and agricultural chemicals for the National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme (NICNAS) and the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA)
  • Engages with the states and territories, industry and community groups in the development of guidelines and standards to reduce production of hazardous chemicals
  • Cooperates in the development of international agreements for restricting the use, production, and emission or release of hazardous chemicals, or for sharing information about them
  • Gathers information about persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and develops strategies to reduce their use and environmental exposure, or eliminate them.

Council of Australian Governments Chemical Reforms

In November 2008, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) agreed to progress reforms in line with recommendations in the 2008 Productivity Commission Research Report on Chemicals and Plastics Regulation (available at www.pc.gov.au/inquiries/completed/chemicals-plastics/report). In this report, the Commission noted that there is currently no risk management decision-making body for industrial chemicals in the environment sector and no formal policy oversight by Environment Ministers. This is in contrast to other sectors such as health, transport and occupational health and safety that have established frameworks for managing the risks associated with industrial chemicals.

The key reform is the establishment of a framework for developing and implementing a nationally-consistent approach to manage the environmental risks of industrial chemicals. The approach is outlined in the Decision RIS referred to above.

The benefits of establishing a national framework include:

  • giving Australians greater confidence that potentially harmful high risk chemicals are subject to appropriate and consistent environmental controls across the nation;
  • making it simpler and more cost effective for industry to fulfil its obligations for managing the environmental implications of chemicals by streamlining current systems, reducing fragmentation, and bringing transparency, simplicity and consistency;
  • increasing information about and understanding of chemicals and the environment so that governments, industry and the community can make informed choices about chemicals and help identify areas needing greater attention so that resources can be allocated strategically and proactively to produce improved outcomes; and
  • helping Australia meet its international obligations for sound management of chemicals, for example under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants.

Consultation Regulation Impact Statement

The former Standing Council on Environment and Water released the COAG Consultation RIS in April 2013, which set out initial options for developing and implementing nationally consistent decisions to manage the environmental risks of industrial chemicals.

PricewaterhouseCoopers were engaged to develop the Consultation RIS on behalf of the Commonwealth and states and territories, as a basis for public consultation on policy options to achieve the COAG reforms.

Submissions on the Consultation RIS closed on 28 June 2013. Feedback from this process was used to refine the approach and options outlined in the Decision RIS.

Chemicals Management Infrastructure

A description of the basic legal, institutional, administrative and technical chemicals management infrastructure is provided in:

Further information