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Hobbs Speech To Chemical Industry

Hon Marion Hobbs Speech Notes

Address to the NZ Chemical Industry Council Annual Conference - implementing the HSNO Act for hazardous substances, National Library Auditorium, Wellington 12 June 13.40

Good afternoon. My thanks to the New Zealand Chemical Industry Council for inviting me to speak to you at your Annual Conference. Congratulations to those of you who have received PRINCE certificates. Your efforts in implementing the "Responsible Care" program at your industrial sites are an excellent example of industry responsibility.

I am particularly pleased to have this opportunity to speak to you, given that we are on the eve of commencing the hazardous substances regulations under the HSNO Act. We have come a long way since the report of the Interagency Coordinating Committee identified in 1988 the shortcomings of the existing fragmented system for managing hazardous substances. Part of that work documented a dozen significant emergencies during the 1980’s and provided data on the substantial costs to New Zealand’s ACC and insurance systems from chemical based accidents and injury. The environmental social and cultural impacts were described.

In July 1996 we had a new Act, the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act and in 1998 that Act came into effect for new organisms with the Environmental Risk Management Authority established and operational. From that point we have seen 14 sets of regulations developed and promulgated and the HSNO Amendment Act 2000 passed into law. We are ready to go.

By now I expect most of you will have received the message that, if you are currently managing your hazardous substances properly, the HSNO start up will mean little change in the short term. That's as it should be. I expect responsible businesses to be getting on with their activities including your ongoing work to achieve best practice and continual improvement.

But looking ahead, this Act will bring important changes in the way we manage hazardous substances.

The first difference will be that you will be able to introduce new technologies for meeting controls. You won’t have to wait for a regulation change and you won’t have to get special permission from a government official. It is no longer reasonable for any Government to have all the expertise necessary to tell you exactly how to do things in your business. You simply need to be sure that the innovation meets the performance set by the control.

Obvious examples of this sort of thing are using lighter packaging of new materials that meet the requirements for strength, but don't have to meet specified measurements as such / and improved labels provided they are clearly readable.

A second important difference is that the HSNO Act treats chemical hazards in the environment the same as other hazards. As a community, we are well past the point where we can tip chemicals into the environment and claim that ignorance of the effects makes it okay.

We must take more care when we dispose of these substances in landfills or sewers to avoid contaminating groundwater and surface water. We must also take more care in the way we use pesticides on our home garden. We must take more care with the dangerous solvents we use to make those brilliantly fast yachts in our highly successful boat building industry.

We have learned a lot more about the effects of some of the chemical substances on our fellow human beings. We need to apply that knowledge and make sure that these substances are looked after in ways that protect our neighbours, our environment and ourselves.

We also need to evaluate the hazards openly and honestly. The Act provides for this, ensuring that we set standards acceptable to the community for managing those hazards. This includes acknowledging what we don’t know.

I am aware that substances essential to our everyday lives contain risks. In the right circumstances, I am told, the amount of petrol in my car could create a fireball that would injure or kill most of my current audience. It is a tribute to our ability to manage petrol that such events are largely confined to movie sets. The HSNO Act extends this ability to all the hazardous substances, to managing effects on the environment, and longer-term health effects on people.

And it does so in a way that you, the people with the expertise in managing these substances, are able to design new and improved ways to meet the required standards.

Acceptable standards do not just appear. There is an international body of knowledge and expertise. New Zealand is part of that international community managing hazardous substances.

We are also part of an international community, working together to ensure that the world we live in sustains our grandchildren at the same standard of living as we have now.

It is 10 years since the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development - the Rio Conference. New Zealand, with many other nations, is reviewing progress against the targets set by that programme.

Part of that review involves getting people in the community thinking and talking about the state of our environment. The second is getting public input on the environment as a contribution to New Zealand’s report to the World Summit on Sustainable Development next year.

But back in 1992 targets were set for the management of hazardous substances by the Rio conference. Chapter 19 of the conference report, “Agenda 21’ established the following objectives:

- Expand and accelerate international assessment of chemical risks;

- Harmonise classification and labelling of chemicals;

- (Improve) information exchange on toxic chemicals and chemical risks;

- Establish risk reduction programmes;

- Strengthen national capabilities and capacities for management of chemicals

- Prevent illegal international traffic in toxic and dangerous products.

New Zealand has been part of the Agenda 21 programme to harmonise the classification of chemicals. This is a practical matter. To manage effectively hazardous substances we must know what their hazards are. It is just common sense to identify hazards in a way that enables us to operate efficiently with our international trading partners.

The harmonisation of classifications is well advanced. The United Nations Committee of Experts on the Transport of Dangerous Goods has provided an agreed classification for substances with physical hazards and the OECD Advisory Group on the Harmonisation of Classification and Labelling has provided an agreed classification for substances with biological hazards. It remains for the overseeing International Program on Chemical Safety (IPCS) to give political sanction to the agreed classifications.

I do not agree with those who say New Zealand is moving too soon to adopt the harmonised classification. The new classifications will be applied to the vast majority of hazardous substances used in New Zealand, in a careful and staged fashion over three years. I hardly call this going too fast. I think that New Zealand will be the stronger for it - it is good business, good trading principles and good management of the environment.

Chapter 19 also sets objectives for risk reduction and strengthening capacity to manage hazardous chemicals. The Government, through the HSNO Act and the ERMA, has set out to respond quite explicitly to these objectives. However I don’t think this response can or should stop there.

Reducing risks and strengthening our capacity to manage these substances means involving people in the process:

- the community at large;

- workers in the various industries that use hazardous substances; and

- the management of organisations supplying or using those substances.

Community knowledge is part of the real knowledge and experience necessary for the risk reduction that Agenda 21 talks about. The HSNO Act builds in public participation in the assessment process. People and interest groups will be able to provide submissions on applications for new substances. They will be able to provide information on existing substances and seek a decision from the Authority as to whether there are grounds for reassessment.

There are those who say that this is an unnecessarily expensive way of doing things and that the costs fall unfairly on business. I disagree. I think you should consider the value that public participation brings to assessments. First, people do bring additional information to assessments including views on the nature of social impacts. I get letters regularly from people writing to me about hazardous substances affecting their health and affecting the environment. Second, public participation increases the trust that people have in the decisions that are arrived at. Third, all persons who may be affected by the regulations made to transfer existing substances to new controls must be given reasonable opportunity to make submissions.

Our recent history contains examples of substances that we would now rather not have had. DDT was regarded as the best possible insecticide and PCB's were the safest possible substances for electrical fittings; and today we bear the cost of cleaning up sites contaminated by such hazardous substances - Mapua / dieldrin dumps on Southland farms.

I accept that there is a cost to public participation. I also think that some of that cost must fall with the supplier of these substances. This needs a balance and that is why the Government is providing just over half the cost of undertaking such assessments. The Government will also fund the ERMA’s work to transfer existing hazardous substances to the new controls. To contain those costs, I need your industries and businesses to cooperate by providing your information on these substances to assist with classification and control.

In my view this is a fair and reasonable balance.

I appreciate also that the Act provides for a single approval of a substance, not a personal approval. This brings me back to the issue of support for innovation and new technology. Some are claiming that the HSNO Act will not encourage the introduction of new improved hazardous substances because others can piggyback on an approval given to a substance designed to be used in a particular way.

My aim is to see that, again, there is a reasonable balance. The HSNO Act is about the health and safety of people and the environment. The Patents Act 1953 is the legislation designed to protect your rights to the results of innovation through research and development. The alternative of providing personal approvals in the HSNO Act would result in duplication of effort by the ERMA and increased costs to the economy. This should not be a substitute for the need to update the Patents Act which I'm told needs revising in the light of modern business practice.

So when the time comes for you to obtain an approval for a new hazardous substance, I encourage you to use the information about how to minimise your costs. For example, I understand the Chemical Industry Council has been working with the flavours and fragrances sector on of a broad application for which the costs will be shared across the sector.

New Zealand is working on the other hazardous substance objectives from Agenda 21. To prevent the illegal movement of hazardous waste New Zealand has ratified the Basel Convention, and for the Pacific region, the Waigani Convention. We have signed the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants. We will use the machinery of the HSNO Act to help deal with those particularly environmentally damaging substances.

There is, however, only so much that Governments or lawmakers can do. Industry has a key role to play in ensuring that production processes are more efficient, that wastes are minimised, and that any wastes produced are well managed.

I would like to acknowledge those of you who have taken a lead in this respect. The NZCIC continues to make a significant contribution to the Ministry’s hazardous waste management programme. Thank you for your work on such things as landfill acceptance criteria and the “New Zealand Waste List Online’.

Let me also mention by way of example the refrigeration and fire protection industries, once heavily reliant on chemicals which are highly ozone depleting. In both cases, manufacturers have worked hard to find better alternatives. Operators within the industry have taken responsibility for stockpiles of existing CFCs and halons.

The refrigeration and air conditioning industry has established a voluntary levy scheme, to pay for the destruction of CFCs that can't be recycled. The industry has also been active in promoting "best practice".

The fire protection industry has developed its own infrastructure for recovering and storing or disposing of surplus halons. It has received some Government funding, but has also developed some ingenious ways for funding its own work - profits from halons that still have some commercial value have helped fund the recovery of other halons.

I would like to acknowledge also the work of the oil industry in used oil recovery. Recovery rates for used oil aren't yet as high as we would like, and my officials are working with industry to address that. Nevertheless some of the larger oil companies have worked hard to put a recovery network in place, in the face of some quite perverse incentives. We may need regulation to back up the recovery of used oil, but I am convinced we will get the best results if we can maintain the enthusiasm and interest shown by some of the oil companies to date.

I acknowledge also, the proposal of the IT industry to recycle cell phones and cell phone batteries. I understand that the so-called 'brown waste' - computers and other electronic equipment, is the largest growing component of the solid waste stream in the United States. Given the Kiwi fascination with things technical, I would be surprised if things were different here.

I expect the proposed waste minimisation and management strategy will deal with special wastes such as electronic equipment. It is not yet clear how much regulation might be needed in this area, and how much might be dealt with on a voluntary basis. I believe the cell phone initiative augurs well for industry-led initiatives. I would urge others of you to look at the waste streams you generate, and the extent to which you could take responsibility for it. In the first place, with improved design in the manufacturing process, you may reduce the amount of material you currently waste.

Let me conclude my acknowledgments by thanking the New Zealand Chemical Industry Council for playing a lead role in the development and promotion of the HSNO legislation. This includes your work in supporting workshops and seminars, and in working on codes of practice that could be used as envisaged by the Act to support regulations.

Finally, be prepared for the start of the HSNO Act. This is not hard. It means making sure your “house is in order’ in relation to the present laws.

If you need a dangerous goods licence make sure you have one.

If you are using toxic substances make sure that they have been properly notified and you have the proper licences and are obeying the present regulations.

If you have your house in order you will find the transition to the HSNO Act easy to manage.

Thank you again for the opportunity to speak to you about the key role you all have to play in making a difference to our environment and the well being of New Zealand.

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