Submissions on the Draft Standard, Explanatory Document and draft Categorisation Tool close at 5pm on 3 March 2017. 

On 24 November 2016, the Australian Government Department of the Environment, and Energy and State and Territory Governments, released the Draft National Standard for Environmental Risk Management of Industrial Chemicals.

The Draft Standard was prepared in collaboration with consultancy firm GHD and is intended to streamline regulation and standardise environmental risk management practices for industrial chemicals nation-wide. Consultation in relation to the Draft Standard is now open and submissions close at 5pm on 3 March 2017.

Overview of the Draft National Standard for Environmental Risk Management of Industrial Chemicals

The Draft Standard provides a national framework for managing risks to the environment posed by industrial chemicals (as defined under the Industrial Chemicals (Notification and Assessment) Act 1989).

The stated objectives of the Draft Standard are:

  • to achieve better protection of the environment through improved management of the environmental risks posed by industrial chemicals; and
  • to provide a nationally consistent, transparent, predictable and streamlined approach to environmental risk management of industrial chemicals for governments, industry and the community.

The Draft Standard will be established by the Commonwealth and implemented by each State and Territory. Each jurisdiction will be responsible for compliance activities and enforcement of the scheduled risk management measures within that jurisdiction.

The Draft Standard is not intended to replace current regulatory requirements for industrial chemicals in Australia. Instead, it is designed to complement the existing regulatory framework for industrial chemicals.

The classification process

An outcomes-based approach to risk management has been adopted under the Draft Standard. This approach is intended to encourage innovation and efficiency in the environmental protection measures adopted under the Draft Standard, and provide industry with the flexibility needed to keep the costs of complying with new risk management requirements as low as possible.

The Draft Standard identifies three broad classes of industrial chemicals: High, Intermediate and Low Concern. Each chemical is then categorised into a particular Environment Schedule based on:

  • hazard ‒ the harm that the industrial chemical that could cause to the environment; and
  • risk ‒ the probability the chemical may pose harm to the environment based on the intended use and volume of use of the industrial chemical.

This means that a chemical with multiple uses may be listed under more than one schedule.

Accordingly, the classification system is structured as:

  • Low Concern: Environment Schedules 1 and 2;
  • Intermediate Concern: Environment Schedules 3 to 5; and
  • High Concern: Environment Schedules 6 and 7.

Risk management measures

Specific risk management measures are identified for each of the Environment Schedules. However, not all risk management measures will be appropriate for every chemical in a given Environment Schedule.

Generally, the risk assessor will recommend the risk management measures required for a particular chemical as part of an environmental risk assessment carried out under the National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme.

The risk management measures relate to the following areas and outcomes:

  • general use;
  • storage, handling and containment;
  • treatment and disposal; and
  • the protection of waters, groundwater, land and air.

Significantly, the risk management measures under the Draft Standard may cover the entire lifecycle of a chemical and the responsibility for managing environmental risks posed by chemicals throughout their lifecycle will be placed on manufacturers. For example, where a chemical is used in consumer products, the product manufacturer will be responsible for ensuring the use of that chemical or product does not breach the risk management requirements during the intended, normal use of the chemical or product by consumers.

What this means for you

From 2018 industry will need to comply with additional regulatory requirements associated with the use of industrial chemicals. On 13 February 2017, a draft Categorisation Tool was released to assist stakeholders to understand the kinds of requirements that may be put in place under the Draft Standard. The draft Categorisation Tool is designed to give an indication of a potential scheduling decision and indicative risk management measures for specific chemicals.

Additional information on the design and operation of the Draft Standard is available in the Explanatory Document and Discussion Paper - Consultation Outcomes.

What's next

Submissions on the Draft Standard, Explanatory Document and draft Categorisation Tool close at 5pm on 3 March 2017. Details of how to make a submission are available on the Department of Environment and Energy website. Please contact us if you would like any further information or assistance with drafting submissions in response to the proposed reforms.

Once submissions have closed, the Draft Standard is to be considered by Commonwealth, State and Territory Environment Ministers, with legislative drafting to commence from mid-2017.

The Draft Standard is intended to be implemented in all jurisdictions by 2018.