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New System For Hazardous Substances

A new system for managing hazardous substances safely comes into force on Monday, the Minister for the Environment, Marian Hobbs, said today.

"The 'hazardous substances' part of the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (HSNO) Act 1996 is a major advance in protecting people’s health and the environment from the harmful effects of many substances that are essential to our daily lives," Marian Hobbs said.

"The new regime will ensure effective risk-management of hazardous substances in line with international best practice. It will cover all hazardous substances from the time they are imported or manufactured through to disposal of residues.

"One central agency, the Environmental Risk Management Authority, will now make decisions on which new hazardous substances can be introduced to New Zealand and will set controls to ensure that they are used safely. A key feature of the new system is that the public may have input into the process of assessing hazardous substances and setting controls.

"At first those who have been managing hazardous substances in accordance with the current laws will notice little change. It will be business as usual until ERMA New Zealand works through the process of transferring many thousands of existing substances to the new system. Changes in the way existing substances are controlled will take effect with this transfer," the Minister said.

Further information can be found on the website http://www.hsno.govt.nz or contact ERMA New Zealand or Ministry for the Environment offices.

Background information

What is a hazardous substance?

Under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act, a hazardous substance is any substance that exceeds the level defined in regulations of any of the following properties:

- an explosive nature (including both substances and articles and pyrotechnics such as fireworks)

- flammability

- ability to oxidise (that is, to accelerate a fire)

- corrosiveness

- acute or chronic toxicity

- ecotoxicity, with or without bioaccumulation (that is, it can kill living things either directly or by building up in the environment)

[not a property - suggest omitting as it applies only to one very specialised set of flammables]

Some examples of common hazardous substances include solvents such as dry-cleaning fluid and paint thinners, petrol, printing inks and dyes, paints, adhesives, cleaners and many resins. The HSNO Act also controls compressed gas containers, whether or not the gas itself is hazardous.

What is the purpose of the HSNO Act?

The purpose of the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996 is: “to protect the environment, and the health and safety of people and communities, by preventing or managing the adverse effects of hazardous substances and new organisms”. The Act focuses on:

- requiring consistent assessment of all hazardous substances and new organisms prior to importation, development or manufacture and release

- using a consistent process for assessment

- enabling public input to the assessment process

- requiring that decisions are made on the basis of the environmental, health and safety effects of hazardous substances and new organisms

- applying suitable controls for hazardous substances at every point of their life cycle and for new organisms during research or field trials

- ensuring that decisions take into account agreements that New Zealand has with other countries.

Why do we need the HSNO Act?

Hazardous substances are essential parts of our daily lives. But if not managed carefully they can harm people or our environment. People can suffer ill-health or even death, our environment can be damaged, and there are costs to the community such as emergency response to chemical or oil spills, cleaning up pollution, and loss of business through damaged crops or products.

Until now, management and control of hazardous substances in New Zealand has been inconsistent and piecemeal. It has focused on single dangerous characteristics, such as the capacity to poison people, without recognising that the same substance might also cause fires or explode. For example, methylated spirits, petrol and many solvent based paints are both toxic and flammable. This system became increasingly inadequate to deal with the complexity of hazardous substances today.

How does the HSNO Act differ from previous laws?

The main differences from previous laws are:

- The approval process for hazardous substances and new organisms under the HSNO Act allows for public input into the decision-making process.

- Hazardous substances will generally have hazard-based controls placed on them. These controls will allow people to use any method they want to achieve the required standards.

- Penalties for non-compliance are higher than under previous legislation.

- Decisions on applications to introduce new organisms, or to introduce and impose controls on hazardous substances are made by one central agency, the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA).

What are the penalties under the HSNO Act?

Penalties for breaches of the HSNO Act include fines of up to $500,000, plus $50,000 a day for a continuing offences, or imprisonment for up to three months. The Court can also order the offender, at their own cost, to fix problems caused by non-compliance or to pay the cost of this being done. Company directors, employers and managers, even if they do not handle or use the substances themselves, can be prosecuted if they have not taken reasonable steps to ensure that their staff comply with the HSNO controls.

How do the HSNO Act and regulations operate?

[need the controls idea up front] The HSNO Act enables the ERMA to impose controls on hazardous substance either as they are assessed and approved or transferred. These controls will be drawn from regulations specifying the performance that must be met in controlling hazardous substances, not how this should be done. For example, they specify the weight a package should withstand without breaking, not the detailed design of the package. The performance-based approach is designed to provide certainty about what is required while allowing the flexibility to adopt new technologies.

When it is assessed by ERMA, each hazardous substance is assigned a classification that reflects the type and degree of its hazard. The regulations then provide the controls that apply as a result of that classification, although ERMA can vary these controls in some circumstances. As a general rule of thumb, the higher the degree of hazard, the stricter the controls. If a substance is hazardous in more than one way, for example, it is both toxic and flammable, the controls will be linked to both hazardous properties.

When will substances already in use transfer to the HSNO regime?

Over the next few years ERMA New Zealand will be working to transfer thousands of hazardous substances already legally present in New Zealand to the HSNO regime. The timetable for this transfer is:

- Explosives are due to be transferred by July 2002

- Dangerous Goods by April 2003

- Toxic Substances by April 2003

- Pesticides by June 2003

What costs will business incur?

All hazardous substances that are already legally present in New Zealand will be transferred by ERMA New Zealand to the new system. The HSNO Act requires that this must be done in line with the present controls imposed on those substances. This does not require an application under the Act and there is no charge, although where unclear information was provided in the past, industry may be asked to assist with clarifying this.

But from 2 July 2001, anyone who wants to import or manufacture a new hazardous substance will need to seek approval from ERMA and provide information to support their application.

The HSNO Act will impose some costs additional to those under the present system. This is because the previous laws were not as comprehensive, or not complied with or did not recover costs at all. The HSNO Act reflects the expectations of the community today that substances will not be used in a way that harms the environment or public health. This is similar to legislation now in place or being developed in other parts of the world.

The application process will be open to public input, which is an improvement on the previous regime but does involve some extra costs. However, the Government has agreed to support the costs of public participation by providing a subsidy for public notification and hearings.

Industry should be able to minimise the costs by making effective use of the provisions of the Act. For example, an application can be made for a group of substances with the same effects, which can be considered together.

In addition, a number of substances will be exempted from the HSNO Act. These include substances used in research and development, because they are small scale uses under contained conditions.

Finally, a rapid assessment process has been introduced for applications which are similar to substances already approved or for substances which are in the lowest category of hazard classification. This will reduce compliance costs, because these applications will be simpler and cheaper to process and do not require public notification.

Who will enforce the HSNO Act?

Enforcement officers can issue compliance orders [no infringement regulations!], and can prosecute offenders when an order is not complied with or when a control on a hazardous substance is no complied with. The enforcement agencies are:

- Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) - issues relating to any workplace

- Ministry of Health - issues related to protecting public health

- Maritime Safety Authority - issues on board any ship

- Civil Aviation Authority - issues with aircraft and airports

- Land Transport Safety Authority (LTSA) - powers to deal with issues on road and rail

- Police - deal with vehicles, and rail

- City and district councils (territorial local authorities) - cover public places, private dwellings and when enforcing Resource Management Act provisions and also cover dangerous goods during the transitional period

- Ministry of Commerce - deals with gas distribution system and appliances

- Allied enforcement agencies are:

- Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry - powers under the Biosecurity Act

- Customs Department - deals with border control

The New Zealand Fire Service has powers under the HSNO Act to deal with emergencies, and the New Zealand Defence Force provides for dealing with bomb disposal and deteriorated explosives.

ERMA New Zealand is not an enforcement agency but has the overall role of monitoring enforcement performance and conducting inquiries under the Act.

Further information: http://www.hsno.govt.nz

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