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About hazardous substances

This page explains what hazardous substances are, what they are used for and how they are managed in New Zealand.

What are hazardous substances?

A hazardous substance is defined in the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996 as a substance that is:

  • explosive
  • flammable
  • oxidising (ie, it can accelerate the combustion of other material)
  • corrosive (of metals or biological tissue)
  • toxic (ie, capable of causing harm to humans)
  • eco-toxic (ie, capable of causing harm to any living organism).

It can have more than one hazardous property (eg, a hydrocarbon may be flammable, toxic and eco-toxic or a heavy metal may be toxic and eco-toxic). It is considered to be hazardous when any of the properties listed above result when the substance contacts air or water.  

What hazardous substances are used for

Hazardous substances are an essential part of many industrial, commercial and agricultural processes (eg, growing crops) and of products which we use in our everyday lives such as petrol and household bleaches. 

Due to their hazardous properties they can present risks to:

  • workers handling them
  • users
  • property
  • the environment. 

Find out more

To find out if a substance is hazardous, whether it is approved for use and how to use and store hazardous substances see Hazardous substances [EPA website].