Hazardous substances assessments: Improving decision-making

image of hazardous substance

The Government approves and sets controls on hazardous substances. It does this to manage potential risks to people and the environment while enabling us to benefit from their use.

There is a large number of hazardous substances in daily use and under development. The Government is proposing to improve the assessment process for hazardous substances so that potential risks are managed and 'greener' substances are encouraged. 

Submissions closed on 30 September 2019. 

Supporting information

What hazardous substances are

Hazardous substances are chemicals or mixes of chemicals that can be explosive, flammable, oxidising, corrosive or toxic to people and the environment.

The difference between a hazardous substance and a chemical

In New Zealand we approve hazardous substances. A substance can be a chemical or a formulation of different chemicals. Different hazardous substances can have the same chemical as an active ingredient present at varying concentrations.

Why we need hazardous substances 

Hazardous substances are used in many places - from homes to workplaces, on fields, in factories and even on our bodies. The Government approves and sets controls on hazardous substances to manage the risks to people and the environment from those hazardous substances, and to enable communities to get the benefits from using them.

The assessment and reassessment process

The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) undertakes assessments and reassessments. The EPA is the regulator of hazardous substances. The EPA processes applications and sets controls for the use of hazardous substances. An assessment is undertaken when a substance is first approved for use in New Zealand. A reassessment is undertaken when controls on that substance are reviewed in light of new information about the use and effect of that substance.

Applying for a reassessment

Any person can apply for a reassessment if there is new information about the use and effect of a substance. The chief executive of the EPA can initiate a reassessment of a substance of the most concern (ie, a substance on the EPA’s priority chemicals list).

How a substance gets onto the EPA’s priority chemicals list

The EPA uses the FRCaST screening tool to consider whether a chemical meets the criteria for the priority chemicals list (PCL) see Screened chemicals list [EPA website]. 

Why the Government is proposing changes to the assessment and reassessment process 

Currently assessments and reassessments tend to be slow and resource-intensive. This means there is a possibility that beneficial chemicals may be slow in coming to market, or that chemicals continue to be used with out-of-date controls. We are seeking to improve the processes to ensure better, more timely protection for people and the environment from hazardous substances.

'Trusted regulator'

A 'trusted regulator' is an overseas regulator who the New Zealand government may choose to recognise as making comparable decisions on particular substances. The information used towards the decision made by the international regulator may be applied to the New Zealand process to fill gaps in information. We are seeking input from stakeholders and the public to form the criteria for choosing 'trusted regulators'.

Trusted information

Information from 'trusted regulators' can include data, scientific information, hazard assessments, risk assessments and decisions. Data is not always available for sharing because of confidentiality requirements. Some risk assessments and decisions can be influenced by local context, risk appetites and political or commercial biases.

Scope of our proposals

Although we are seeking to improve the whole reassessment process, options to improve the initial assessment process is limited to applying a ‘trusted regulator’ approach. A broader review of the assessment process and changes to principles in the HSNO Act are outside the scope of this consultation.

Impact on chemicals in use

These options are focused on improving the EPA’s decision-making processes.  There are no proposed changes to any specific chemical approvals as part of this consultation. 

Information sessions

We held public information sessions around New Zealand to discuss this and other proposals we are currently consulting on. Together, these proposals will help us protect our environment and address the issues raised in Environment Aotearoa 2019.

Public meeting timetable