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November 30, 2016

Australian Draft National Standard for the Environmental Risk Management of Industrial Chemicals Addresses Nanomaterials

Lynn L. Bergeson Carla N. Hutton

On November 24, 2016, the Australian Department of the Environment and Energy began a public consultation on the Draft National Standard for the Environmental Risk Management of Industrial Chemicals and a supporting Draft Explanatory Document.  According to the Department, the primary purpose of the papers is to outline the design and operation of the National Standard.  The Draft National Standard contains risk management measures applicable for each Environment Schedule under the Standard.  The Draft Explanatory Document provides supporting information for the scheduling criteria and risk management measures and outlines the processes that will support decision-making under the Standard.  The National Standard will apply to all industrial chemicals, and is intended to fill a gap identified for the environmental management of industrial chemicals.  Therefore, the Draft National Standard does not explicitly manage risks to human health.  The Draft National Standard categorizes industrial chemicals into one of seven Environment Schedules depending on their level of concern to the environment.  Chemicals will be considered to be low, intermediate, or high concern to the environment, and management responses will be proportionate to this level of concern.  The Draft National Standard defines a nanomaterial as “a material intentionally produced, manufactured or engineered to have unique properties or specific composition at the nanoscale, that is a size range typically between 1 nm and 100 nm, and is either a nano-object (i.e. that is confined in one, two, or three dimensions at the nanoscale) or is nanostructured (i.e. having an internal or surface structure at the nanoscale).”  Chemicals of intermediate concern categorized into Schedule 3 (hazardous, moderate risk substances) would include substances that “have other characteristics that may result in adverse short or long term effects on the environment.”  A footnote states that these characteristics are “e.g. nanomaterials, persistent substances that may have adverse effects on the environment as they accumulate such as chemicals exhibiting endocrine activity but are not identified endocrine disruptors, or chemicals with Global Warming Potential.”  The Draft Explanatory Document includes an explanation of questions in the categorization decision trees.  Question 10 is whether there is evidence to suggest that the substance has other characteristics that may result in adverse short- or long-term effects on the environment.  The answer notes that, in some circumstances, substances may not be hazardous through toxicity or bioaccumulation, “but may have other characteristics that may result in short or long term effects on the environment.  These substances currently have unquantifiable risks, but there is evidence to suggest their presence in the environment may have possible adverse effects.”  The Draft Explanatory Document includes nanomaterials in this category.  According to the Draft Explanatory Document, substances in this category that are otherwise not identified as hazardous (at least harmful, bioaccumulative, perfluorinated, or endocrine-disrupting) will be recommended for inclusion in Environment Schedule 3.  The Document states:  “This will enable release to the environment to be managed appropriately and include the potential for a watching brief to ensure a change in circumstances is reported.  This category will also have the potential to be reviewed to include substances with emerging but yet unquantifiable risks to the environment.”  Comments on the Draft National Standard are due March 3, 2017.