Environmentally Hazardous Chemicals Act
Commencement and operation
When the Environmentally Hazardous Chemicals Act 1985 (EHC Act) became fully operational on 1 November 1985, it allowed for the first time in Australia a mechanism for regulating chemicals of environmental concern throughout their entire life cycle.
The EHC Act allows the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) to regulate chemicals or groups of chemicals of environmental concern. These requirements are set out in chemical control orders and may require a licence or prohibit certain activities. The activities may include storing, transporting or treating chemicals and/or their wastes.
Chemical control orders
Chemical control orders (CCOs) are the primary regulatory tool under the EHC Act and are used by the EPA to control particular chemicals and/or chemical wastes that have a significant potential or actual impact on the environment. They also complement other environmental legislation by providing a rapid and flexible mechanism for responding to emerging chemical issues.
CCOs can set controls on activities throughout the chemical's life cycle through general requirements and by requiring that certain activities are subject to particular licence conditions. An order can be made in relation to single substances, groups of substances (e.g. scheduled chemicals) and particular waste streams (e.g. aluminium smelter wastes).
The EPA currently has five CCOs in place in NSW: an copy of each on the chemical control order webpage.
EHC licences are issued only to persons who are required by a chemical control order to hold a licence. There are specific application forms which need to be filled out when lodging an application for a licence, renewing a licence or surrendering a licence. Details on EHC licensing requirements can be obtained by calling Environment Line.
Licences are also required for chemical usage under other EPA legislation. If you are undertaking an activity that could potentially have a significant environmental impact and is covered in schedule 1 of the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997, this activity would require an environment protection licence. Such licences can also be issued to regulate water pollution from activities that are not in Schedule 1.
More details on requirements for environment protection licences
In addition to environment protection licences, there are also provisions for the EPA to declare and make orders for the investigation and remediation of sites that it considers are likely to be contaminated with chemicals and that may pose a significant risk of harm to human health or the environment. These declarations of contaminated sites are made under the Contaminated Land Management Act 1997.
Australia is a signatory to the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants and as such is bound to take particular care with activities involving persistent organic pollutants (POPs) including PCBs, cetain organochlorine compounds (e.g. DDT) and dioxins. This Convention is implemented in Australia by the National Strategy for the Management of Scheduled Wastes which is given effect in NSW through CCOs issued under section 22 of the EHC Act.
Technologies for treating or destroying those chemicals listed under the National Strategy are assessed in accordance with the National Protocols for Approval/Licensing of Trials of Technologies for the Treatment/Disposal of Schedule X Wastes 1994 and/or National Protocol for Approval/Licensing of Commercial-Scale Facilities for the Treatment/Disposal of Schedule X Wastes 1994. These protocols were developed as part of the National Strategy for the Management of Scheduled Waste.
A technology assessment is generally carried out as part of a licencing process for specific premises or mobile treatment plant.
It should be noted that while the EPA may approve use of a treatment technology at a specific site this should not be viewed as a generic approval of that technology. Approvals are always site-specific and may require some public consultation.
Hazardous Chemicals Advisory Committee (HCAC)
The HCAC is established under Part 2 of the EHC Act. Membership on this committee is determined by schedule 1 of the EHC Act. Members represent a range of government, industry and community interests.
The functions of the committee are primarily to advise the EPA on the assessment and controls required for chemicals which have been identified to be environmentally hazardous. Consultation with the EPA is usually in relation to development of a chemical control order or amendments that are required for existing chemical control orders. The committee can also be called upon to provide advice to the EPA on whether it is appropriate to use a particular technology to treat chemical wastes at a specific contaminated site.
The Environmentally Hazardous Chemicals Regulation 2008 allows the appointment of alternate members of the Hazardous Chemicals Advisory Committee and sets fees in relation to technology assessments and EHC Act licences. It also specifies what information the EPA is required to publish in public notices about applications for assessment of prescribed activities, licences and transfers of licences and any assessments of chemicals.
View the Regulatory Impact Statement for the remade Environmentally Hazardous Chemicals Regulation 2008.
Relation to other legislation
Since the commencement of the EHC Act, a number of developments have had an impact on some of the provisions of the EHC Act. The National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme (NICNAS) was introduced by the Commonwealth Government in 1989 and, as a consequence of mutual agreement, assessments of new and existing industrial chemicals are undertaken at a national level by NICNAS.
Legislative changes have also occurred at state level and the EPA introduced the Contaminated Land Management Act 1997 to provide a comprehensive framework for regulating contaminated sites. Also in 1997, the EPA enacted the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 that has provisions for regulating chemical emissions to air, discharges to water and waste management.
Use of pesticides is regulated in NSW by the EPA under the Pesticides Act 1999. However the disposal of pesticides and their wastes can be regulated under the EHC Act if the pesticide is covered by a chemical control order.
Page last updated: 10 October 2012