National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme (NICNAS) Community Engagement Forum

Public submissions to the review of the National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme.

Page last updated: 20 March 2012

PDF printable version of NICNAS Community Engagement Forum submission (PDF 55 KB)
PDF printable version of NICNAS Community Engagement Forum submission (Attachment) (PDF 483 KB)
HTML version of NICNAS Community Engagement Forum submission (Attachment)

Better Regulation Ministerial Partnership

NICNAS CEF Submission

We the undersigned members of the NICNAS Community Engagement Forum welcome the opportunity to submit a brief submission to what we understand to be the preliminary preparatory work for the Better Regulation Ministerial Partnership prior to development of a discussion paper.

We highlight here our major concerns, and those of the community organisations that we represent. Please also refer to the attached PowerPoint presentation.

The overarching regulatory system

The role and function of NICNAS should be considered within the overall framework of regulation of hazardous chemicals in Australia.
  • The system is complex and fragmented. According to the Government's Standing Committee on Chemicals1, there are nine Federal Ministries involved in the regulation of chemicals and plastics. As a result Australia falls well behind other comparable countries in protecting worker, consumer and public health and safety, as well as the environment. The best efforts by specific agencies and their staff cannot overcome flawed architecture of the system. Specifically, we are not convinced by the assertion in the Productivity Commission's study into Chemicals and Plastics Regulation in Australia report that Australia's "current regimes are broadly effective in managing risks to health and safety..."2. There are simply insufficient Australian data to substantiate this claim.
  • As a nation we have adopted an approach to hazardous chemicals which is, at best, broadly based on an assumption of "innocent until proven guilty". In some cases, even after there has been overwhelming evidence that a chemical is toxic, insufficient action is taken. This is far from international best practice. To ensure that Australia is not lagging other countries and to assure consumers that government is acting to protect their safety we must place the precautionary principle at the heart of our regulatory framework and should act swiftly when new scientific evidence raises concerns about the safety of previously approved industrial chemicals.
  • The ability of Australia to readily ban or restrict the use of an industrial chemical is restricted by the fragmented and complex regulatory framework we have adopted. The EU, Canada, USA and UK have created lists of chemicals that they have taken action to ban or restrict. Many of the chemicals on these lists are in use in Australia and public awareness is increasing as regulatory actions are taken overseas, but no action is taken here.
  • There are almost 40,000 industrial chemicals listed on the Australian Inventory of Chemical Substances (AICS) which have been "accepted" for use, having been listed at the time the AICS was established. The vast majority of these have not been assessed by NICNAS. There is now a Government commitment to ensure funding to NICNAS to initiate a "fast tracking' to prioritise approximately 3000 of these chemicals over the next three years. However, we are concerned about the limited scope of this initiative and the fact that the only additional funding for this important work comes from the industry via fees and charges. Given the enormous public interest in reviewing the existing chemical portfolio in a timely manner we think one-off government funding should be provided for this purpose so as to ensure the assessment (or removal from AICS) of the remaining 35000 chemicals and the implementation of the remainder of the Existing Chemicals Review recommendations.

1 SCOC website
2 From "Key Points' Chemicals and Plastics Regulation Productivity Commission Research Report July 2008

Role and function of NICNAS

On the whole, with the powers and resources it has, we believe that NICNAS performs well, but as noted, its powers are too limited, and the system is too diffuse, to adequately ensure the 'protection of human health and the environment'.
  • The Commonwealth Government has placed NICNAS under the Department of Health and Ageing, signalling that its role is primarily that of protecting the health of Australians and our environment. We believe that NICNAS requires additional powers in order to carry out what it needs to do. In particular, it is critical that NICNAS be able to address the full life cycle of a chemical, from "cradle to grave' and provide regulatory advice on the manufacture, use and disposal of chemicals.
  • The activities of NICNAS are fully cost-recovered. However, resources and powers limit the work it can complete. NICNAS must be adequately funded as its resources are stretched and too often it is required to react to urgent requests – albeit sometimes provided with additional funding from other departments to do so.
  • NICNAS performs well in consulting with its stakeholders through the formalisation of the IGCC and the CEF. NICNAS also ensures that any 'advisory groups', established to explore emerging issues (such as the addition of cosmetics into the scheme, or the regulation of nanomaterials). We do, however, have some concerns about the influence of the industry on NICNAS decisions. Industry lobby groups are well organised and well financed; their voice is loud and strident. The full cost recovery system also enhances the influence of industry as, inevitably, "He who pays the piper calls the tune."
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  • NICNAS must have powers to ban and restrict chemicals of concern.
  • NICNAS must have the powers to gather critical exposure data (ie volume and use data)
  • NICNAS should provide risk management and regulatory advice and have powers to enforce compliance.
  • NICNAS must be funded to carry out a more holistic definition of regulation that is not limited to the notification and registration of industrial chemicals and that includes funds for stakeholder engagement, reviews and reforms, safer chemical, toxics substitution and elimination programs and capacity building programs for industry and the community.

Jane Bremmer (Australian Environmental Network, National Toxics Network)
David Oakenfull (CHOICE)
Pamela Grassick (Queensland Council of Unions)
Renata Musolino (Victorian Trades Hall Council)

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HTML version of the powerpoint presentation

NICNAS Community Engagement Forum

A community sector perspective on the regulation of industrial chemicals in Australia

Participatory democracy in chemicals management

  • UN Convention on Human Rights
  • Bahai Declaration
  • Aarhus Convention
  • Rio Declaration (UNCED)
  • Australian 'Declaration of Open Government'

Chemicals – A human rights issue

  • 'living in a pollution-free world is a basic human right' -2001 UNHRC
  • 'those who pollute violate human rights'
  • "Human rights cannot be secured in a degraded or polluted environment….the fundamental right to life is threatened by exposures to toxic chemicals, hazardous wastes & contaminated drinking water."
  • Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989 - child's right to health, adequate food and clean water 'taking into consideration dangers & risks of environmental pollution'
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Environmental Justice

"...the principle that all people and communities are entitled to equal protection of environmental and public health laws and regulations."

Robert Bullard, Dumping in Dixie: Race,class, and Environmental Quality, 1990.

Drivers for change

  • It is estimated that around one in three of all occupational diseases recognised in Europe each year is due to exposure to hazardous chemicals.
  • A wide range of chemical residues are now found in human breast milk with Australia showing some of the highest levels. (ie flame retardants)
  • Environmental monitoring is showing chemical residues extensively in the environment. Air, water and soil.
  • Most of the 38 000 industrial chemicals available for use in Australia have not been adequately assessed for human health and environmental impacts.
  • Insufficient volume and use data, critical for exposure assessments, has been provided by industry to Australian regulators.
  • Impending climate change impacts. Re-release of POP's
  • EDC's - Hormone disruption could pose a more imminent threat to humankind than climate change. (Colborn and Clement 1992)

Community Engagement Forum

  • Established 2003 LRCC
  • Representing:
    -Environment and community interests (AEN)
    -Public health (PHAA and CHOICE)
    -Worker health and safety (ACTU)
  • "...recognising the importance of effective engagement in formulating regulatory policies and practices that operate well and best meet the needs of all stakeholders.”

CEF supporting NICNAS

  • Community Engagement Charter
  • Community Engagement Framework
  • Developing Community Engagement Strategies
  • Facilitating ECR National Engagement Strategy
  • Review of ECR National Engagement Strategy
  • CEF E-Bulletin (quarterly)
  • Submissions- reforms/works, PEC's, CRIS, Nano, Cosmetics, Disinfectants, ECR, LRCC, COAG
  • Presentations – HAZMAT
  • Gateway engagement with sectors
  • Providing equitable representation – ECR, ISG, TWP, NAG, CAG
  • CEF Workplans
*CEF Appraisal (Sass)

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CEF Workplan priorities 2011

  • Implementation of the ECR
  • Regulatory Framework for Nano-materials
  • International harmonisation
  • LRCC evaluation
  • NICNAS Website
  • Reforms

Broad Issues of Concern for CEF

  • Complexity of chemical regulatory system
  • Unassessed chemicals in use
    (eg Class 1 and 2a carcinogens/classified hazardous/restricted overseas)
  • Nano forms of existing chemicals
  • Insufficient engagement of community in certain areas
  • Community capacity building
-Chemical Safety Forum

Specific Issues of Concern

  • Prioritisation of AICS
  • Slow implementation of EC rec's
  • LRCC evaluation
  • Assessment of PBDE's, HBCD's
  • Phthalates assessments
    -uptake of DEHP rec's, compliance auditing/monitoring
    -slow progress on remaining
    -information provision insufficient
    -overseas regulatory actions should trigger Australian restrictions

Regulatory concerns

  • Approx 1500 new chemicals every year
  • 6974 chemicals reported under exempt categories 2010-11
  • 38000 unassessed available for use
  • No data on LRCC program
  • Complicated regulatory framework
    (More than nine separate government portfolios involved including numerous regulatory agencies, standing committees and taskforces.)
  • Regulatory gaps (eg lead)
  • Overseas regulatory action does not trigger equivalent actions in Australia

Chemical risks in the environment

  • BTEX and fracking chemicals
    -LNG and CSG processing polluting air, water and soil
  • Lead
  • -children's articles, playground equipment, residues in soil and waste streams
  • EPDM
  • -extensive use of Soft fall and fake turf, leaching into groundwater, residues in waste streams
  • Plastics
  • -residual wastes pollute air, water and soil
  • Nano-materials
  • -No regulatory framework or nano-pollution monitoring
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Chemical risks to the public, particularly children and the elderly.

  • BPA
    - Australia's voluntary 12 month phase-out in baby bottles vs overseas bans
  • Phthalates
    - in use in Australia but restricted EU, US, Canada and Japan
    - Slow assessment of 25 priority
  • PBDE's and PFOS
    - Upholstery and Carpet underlay, babies exposed, high levels in Aus breastmilk/blood
  • Unassessed chemicals in domestic products
    - No exposure assessments, control of use data leaves children vulnerable.

Consumer issues

  • The complexity of the current system restricts innovation – in particular introduction of safer, more effective chemicals.
  • Regulators are too slow to respond to new science – Australia lags behind comparable jurisdictions in consumer protection.
Examples of how slow the Australian regulatory system can be in responding to new science.
  • Diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP)
  • Endosulfan

Diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP)

  • Even low level exposure to DEHP can affect reproductive development, particularly in young boys.
  • Children chewing or sucking on toys or other products made from PVC plasticised with DEHP are at risk.
  • The EU banned DEHP and some other phthalates from toys and baby products more than four years and the US banned them from February 2009.
  • Australia announced an interim ban on toys and baby products containing more than 1% DEHP only in January 2010.


  • Known to be hazardous at normal levels of exposure for more than a decade. Banned in more than 60 countries, including most European Union member states and New Zealand.
  • While it is now being phased out in Australia (from October 2010) it can still be used here.
CHOICE supports strong application of the precautionary principle in the regulation of toxic chemicals
  • The precautionary principle is already encapsulated over 40 Australian laws including federal environment, fisheries management and gene technology laws.
  • The regulatory framework should place protecting human health and the environment above reducing the regulatory burden on industry.
  • Lack of evidence of harm is not evidence of safety.
  • The responsibility should be on manufacturers and importers to prove safety, before market access is granted.

Chemical risks to workers

  • Occupational cancer burden: 5000 cases/year
  • Schedule of carcinogens – Class 1 and 2A in use
  • Exposure standards lag behind international
  • Health surveillance schedule inadequate
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Chemical risks to workers

  • Insufficient/no information on nano forms of existing chemicals
  • Research shows repeatedly that lower order controls most commonly used in workplaces
High Risk of Allergies and Asthma at the Workplace particularly in developed countries!
High Risk of Allergies and Asthma at the Workplace particularly in developed countries!

Above graph contains:
Mean annual in incidence of occupational astha in developed and developing countries
Developed countries
Male (17.5)
Females (18)

Over all (11.5)

Female (7.2)

Over all (3)

Overall (2.5)

Over all (2.5)

Over all (2.5)

Overall (2.5)

Developing Countries
South Africa
Over all (1.9)

Overall (1.8)

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Many processing Industries associated with Occupational Allergies!

Developed countries (Finland, Sweden, Norway, Italy, France, Spain, Germany, United Kingdom, USA, Canada, New Zealand)
  • Manufacturing: bakers and pastry makers, car/coach spray painters, motor vehicle manufacturing, machine and metal product assemblers, painters and lacquerers chemical/petroleum workers, cooks/butchers, welders, furnacemen, plastic product workers, floor layers, leather and shoe workers, seafood processors
  • Health care and social work; health service workers, veterinary surgeons, laboratory technologists
  • Agriculture, forestry and fishing: farmers, stock breeders of poultry/dairy
  • Service work: hairdressers, janitors/cleaners
  • Commercial work; wholesalers and retailers, clerks
  • Mining: aluminium smelter workers
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Regulatory Failure

Chemical assessments often lack or have insufficient consideration of -
  • Critical exposure data
  • Ecotoxicological data
  • Epidemiology data
  • Children's specific vulnerability
  • Environmental fate and disposal data
  • Body burden and Endocrine Disruption data
  • Multiple chemical, cumulative and synergistic data

Climate Change and Chemicals

  • Increased release of chemicals into the environment
  • Changes in :
    - temperature, precipitation affect long range transport & distribution
    - temperature increases volatilizing & air emissions
    - primary & secondary remobilisation
    - release from melting snow, ice, permafrost soils, glaciers
    - extreme weather events, flooding
    - salinity - bioavailability of substances
    - degradation rates
    - toxicity of some chemicals
    - sensitivity of wildlife to exposures
  • Synergy of exposures & climate environmental stresses, affect adaptability, immune function, reproductive viability

Community Expectations

  • National Adverse Reporting Scheme
  • Annotation of AICS (ie substitution advice, hazard warnings)
  • Powers to ban and restrict
  • Information gathering powers
  • Toxics elimination/reduction strategy
  • Children's Chemical Safety Act.
  • All chemicals in use assessed to current standards.
  • Less complex, more effective regulatory system.