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Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act

About the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (HSNO) Act 1996

The Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act – generally known as the HSNO Act – was passed in June 1996 and was aimed at streamlining and updating the system for managing the risks from hazardous substances and new organisms (including genetically-modified organisms) in New Zealand. While it was passed into law in 1996, the HSNO Act came into force for new organisms in July 1998 and in July 2001 for hazardous substances (although for hazardous substances there is a transitional period during which those substances already legally in the country are being transferred to the new law).

The HSNO Act replaces the Explosives Act 1957, the Dangerous Goods Act 1974, the Toxic Substances Act 1979, the Pesticides Act 1979, and parts of the Animal (1967) and Plants (1970) Acts covering the intentional introduction of new species into New Zealand. It has also replaced two interim voluntary arrangements set up to deal with the relatively new technology of genetic modification.

Under the act, a hazardous substance is one which, because of its chemical nature, could readily explode, burn, oxidise or corrode, or is toxic to people or other living things or to ecosystems. A new organism is a species of organism coming into New Zealand for the first time. The term ‘organism’ refers to any living thing, including animals, plants, microbes and viruses. The Act also makes all genetically-modified organisms new organisms, even if they are developed in NZ.

The purpose of the Act 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." It does this by requiring a consistent assessment process for all hazardous substances and new organisms prior to their being imported, developed, manufactured or released, and to enable public participation in this process. It also provides for a reassessment of whether new organisms and hazardous substances should be imported, developed, manufactured or released where it is seen to be necessary, and assigns responsibility for monitoring and enforcement.

The Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA) is the quasi-judicial body which decides if new organisms and hazardous substances can be introduced into New Zealand. It manages any risks that hazardous substances and new organisms pose to the environment and public health and safety.

The HSNO Act is enforced by a number of central government agencies and New Zealand’s 74 territorial local authorities.

Fines for breaching the HSNO Act’s main provisions include up to $500,000 for an offence and an additional $50,000 a day for a continuing offence. Offenders can be imprisoned for up to three months. A court can also order a convicted offender to remedy or mitigate the effects of the non-compliance at their own cost or to pay the cost of this being done. A court can also order a new organism to be destroyed.

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