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Environment Protection Authority

Environmental Issues

Chemicals and pesticides

Chemical control orders

Review of current Chemical Control Orders

The Environment Protection Authority (EPA) undertook a review of the environmentally hazardous chemicals legislation to modernise the act and introduce a more streamlined system for the management of hazardous chemicals.

In conjunction with the legislative review, the EPA also undertook a staged review of the five current chemical control orders (CCOs) made under the Environmentally Hazardous Chemicals Act 1985. The review was a staged approach to enable the EPA to thoroughly assess the adequacy of each order and to determine whether improvements are required.

The EPA invited public submissions on the current CCOs to inform the review, closing 12 August 2016.

Following the public submission period, the EPA will review and consider written submissions prior to developing a discussion paper detailing proposed changes/amendments to the current CCOs. The paper will be released for public comment later this year.

What is a Chemical Control Order?

Chemical control orders (CCOs) are a primary regulatory tool made under the Environmentally Hazardous Chemicals Act 1985 (EHC Act) and are used by the EPA to selectively and specifically control particular chemicals of concern, and limit their potential or actual impact on the environment. CCOs 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 lifecycle through general requirements and by requiring that certain things be subject to particular licence conditions. An order can be made in relation to single substances, groups of substances (e.g. scheduled chemicals) or particular waste streams (e.g. aluminium smelter wastes).

There are five CCOs currently in place in NSW:

When are chemical control orders made?

Chemical control orders are usually made where controls on chemicals are required beyond those set under pollution laws. CCOs may be made when chemicals or chemical wastes have been assessed as posing:

  1. serious threats to the environment and
  2. particular challenges in their management.

In these circumstances, a chemical control order provides additional controls beyond those approaches (e.g. discharge limits in licences or labelling requirements) generally used for chemicals.

One of the primary issues that chemical control orders were originally intended to address was the stockpiling of chemical wastes that posed a threat to the environment (e.g. aluminium smelter wastes). They also target substances which are highly persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic (such as PCBs, dioxins, scheduled chemical wastes) and/or toxic in very low doses (e.g. organotin compounds).

How are chemical control orders made?

Chemical control orders can be made for chemicals that have been declared to be wastes and for any chemicals that have been assessed and determined to be environmentally hazardous. CCOs are made by the EPA either with the advice of a special advisory committee set up under the EHC Act or with the Minister's consent. Orders are published in the NSW Government Gazette and take effect from the specified date. They remain in force until a repeal notice is published in the gazette.

The first step in making an order involves assessment of a chemical or declaration of a chemical waste as being environmentally hazardous. Chemicals can be assessed at the national or state level.

National chemical assessment

Various Commonwealth agencies assess specific types of chemicals. These agencies evaluate potential risks to human health or the environment associated with chemicals and make recommendations about reducing these risks. Where a national assessment incorporates all the legislative requirements of the EHC Act, a chemical control order may be used to implement the national recommendations in NSW.

The following agencies assess chemicals at the national level:

State chemical assessment

The EPA can assess chemicals through a formal process established under the EHC Act. This process includes consideration of public submissions. The Act also establishes a Hazardous Chemicals Advisory Committee that may provide advice to the EPA on the priorities for assessing chemicals, the assessments undertaken and the controls that may be warranted. One possible outcome of this assessment process is the decision to make a CCO.

Offences and penalties

CCOs impose a variety of requirements on anyone dealing with the specified materials and wastes. If you are using any of these substances, you need to check the appropriate CCO and comply with the relevant requirements. Failure to comply with the CCO or associated licence conditions is an offence under the EHC Act. The maximum penalties for these offences are $137,500 for a corporation and $66,000 for an individual.

For further information on chemical control orders, contact Environment Line.

Current chemical control orders

Five chemical control orders are currently in place in NSW. A brief outline of these orders and access to them is provided below.

The EHC Act has appeal provisions relating to the making of CCOs. If you have objections to the making of this order see Division 5, Part 6 of the EHC Act for appeal provisions. Appeals will be considered only if they are made in writing to Manager Chemicals Policy Section (email: info@environment.nsw.gov.au ) within 30 days of the date of gazettal of this order.

Note: Copies of the official print version of the CCOs may only be obtained from the NSW Government Gazette. Gazette references are given for each order in the pdf files below. References in CCOs to the State Pollution Control Commission (SPCC) should be read as the 'Environment Protection Authority' (EPA). The EPA is a statutory body established under the Protection of the Environment Administration Act 1991.

Chemical control order in relation to aluminium smelter wastes containing fluoride and/or cyanide (1986)

The smelting of aluminium generates wastes that contain cyanide and fluoride. This is particularly true of wastes collected from smelting pots and shot blast cleanings. Cyanide is well known as being highly toxic to humans and most forms of animal life as it interferes with oxygen uptake. High levels of fluorides are generally toxic and irritating.

This CCO sets rules relating to activities that include processing, storing, transporting and disposing of these wastes. All of these activities are likely to trigger licensing requirements. Additional care is required for aluminium smelter wastes that contain high levels of water-soluble fluoride and/or cyanide (e.g. these wastes must be treated prior to disposal). The CCO sets the levels of cyanide and/or fluoride that would trigger these additional requirements and outlines the types of conditions that may be imposed by a licence in these circumstances (e.g. securing the premises, environmental monitoring, and remediating sites contaminated with these wastes). View the CCO (PDF 24KB).

Chemical control order in relation to dioxin-contaminated waste materials (1986)

Dioxin is a compound of extreme concern to human and environmental health because it is bioaccumulative, persistent and toxic at very low concentrations. Dioxins are covered by the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants. Cancer and other adverse health effects of dioxins have been observed both in animals and, to a more limited extent, in humans. In animals these non-cancer effects include changes in hormone systems, alterations in foetal development, reduced reproductive capacity, and immunosuppression.

Dioxins are a class of chemicals that are created through the burning of certain wastes, smelting, manufacturing of certain classes of chemicals, and in forest fires and volcanic eruptions. Australia generally has low levels of dioxins compared to other countries. Nevertheless, Australia is undertaking a range of measures through the National Dioxins Program to ensure that dioxin levels in humans and the environment remain low.

This CCO specifically relates to only one member of this family; 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (2,3,7,8-TCDD), internationally classified as a known human carcinogen. View the CCO (PDF 20KB).

The CCO prohibits the disposal of these wastes and requires a licence from the EPA for processing, storing, selling, distributing or conveying them. The CCO also sets out additional requirements that may be imposed by a licence (for example, environmental monitoring, remediating any contamination on-site and processing of these wastes).

Organotin waste materials chemical control order 1989

Organotin waste is primarily generated by the shipping industry during the removal of antifouling paint containing organotin chemicals. Organotin was once widely used as a pesticide to control the growth of algae and other fouling organisms on ship hulls.

Pesticides are assessed and registered for use in Australia by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA). The APVMA cancelled the registration of all marine paints containing organotin and prohibited all use of such products after 31 July 2003 following an international agreement to phase out organotin marine paint. For more information on Australia's efforts to address this issue, visit the Department of Environment webpage on the antifouling program.

Organotin is toxic in the marine environment at extremely low concentrations and has been shown to interfere with the biological processes in a diverse range of species. It has been found to bioaccumulate in whales and other sea mammals and disrupt the endocrine system of a range of invertebrates leading to sterility and death. Accordingly, management of organotin wastes requires special care and this is reflected in the requirements set out in the CCO. The CCO requires boat repair facilities and other premises that apply or remove organotin antifouling paint to vessels larger than 25 metres in length to hold a licence from the EPA if they plan to generate or store wastes containing organotin. View the CCO (PDF 23KB).

The CCO also sets controls on the disposal of all solid or liquid organotin wastes generated during the application or removal of antifouling paint. The CCO only applies to dredged sediments contaminated with organotin where these are clearly associated with facilities used to apply or remove organotin products (this is likely to include, for example, sediments immediately adjacent to slipways).

The procedure for disposal of organotin wastes subject to the CCO is as follows:

  • Organotin wastes may be disposed of to a restricted solid waste landfill or a general solid waste (non-putresible) landfill provided that the waste is completely isolated from the other waste and leachate in the landfill cell.
  • Upon arrival at the landfill, the organotin waste must be placed immediately in a designated area in a landfill waste cell. The waste must be separated on all sides by at least 600mm of clean clay liner material so that the treated waste placed within the cell is completely isolated from other wastes in the landfill. The disposal of the treated wastes must be supervised by the landfill operator.
  • Sludges must be fully dewatered so as to fulfil the physical requirement for non-liquid wastes as set out in the Waste Classification Guidelines. Any resulting aqueous liquid is classified as liquid waste and as such would need to be sent to an appropriately licensed facility for treatment.
  • If the dewatered waste contains any other contaminants listed in the waste guidelines at levels above restricted solid waste criteria it must be treated prior to landfill disposal. Such treatment may be subject to a specific approval for the immobilisation of those contaminants. Part 2 of the waste guidelines sets out the requirements and information that needs to be provided. More information is available on tracking requirements for waste.

Polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) chemical control order 1997

Polychlorinated biphenyl compounds (PCBs) are a class of highly persistent, bioaccumulative chemicals covered by the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants. They were once widely used in a range of electrical applications including transformers and capacitors.

Health effects that have been associated with exposure to PCBs include acne-like skin conditions in adults and neurobehavioural and immunological changes in children. Experiments have identified that PCBs may be a human carcinogen, an endocrine disruptor and an immune system disruptor.

PCBs are still present in products such as electrical transformers and light fittings. However quantities declined during the staged phaseout mandated by the National PCB Management Plan which drew to a close at the end of 2009. This plan was given legal force in NSW through the PCB chemical control order. The order requires PCBs to be phased out in various uses, depending upon the concentration of PCBs and whether they are close to sensitive areas such as schools or hospitals. All PCBs in concentrations above 2mg/kg were required to be removed from service or treated in situ by 1 January 2009 with treatment required by 1 January 2010 at the latest.

This CCO sets controls on activities including the generation, processing, storing, conveying and disposing of PCB material or PCB wastes, depending upon the PCB concentration. Dilution of the PCB concentration is prohibited. View the CCO (PDF 58KB).

The order also requires people storing PCBs to:

  • develop emergency management arrangements
  • carry out a survey of potential PCB containing equipment
  • undertake a risk management program to ensure that PCBs are removed from equipment and/or processed to reduce PCB levels, within specified timeframes.

Processing of PCBs in concentrations greater than 2mg/kg is likely to trigger an assessment by the EPA. Processing of PCBs below this concentration still requires written approval from the EPA. Processing transformer oil containing PCBs is considered to include any activity apart from gravity draining. Under no circumstances should oil containing PCBs above 2mg/kg be burned as waste oil unless the operator holds a valid POEO or EHC licence.

Scheduled chemical wastes chemical control order 2004

Scheduled chemical wastes are wastes containing chemicals defined by the schedule attached to the order. The schedule lists 24 chemicals including a number of organochlorine pesticides which are no longer registered for use (e.g. DDT, dieldrin, heptachlor) as well as some industrial waste by-products (e.g. 1,2,4-trichlorobenzene). These chemicals are of concern because of their persistence, tendency to bioaccumulate and toxicity to living things. Adverse effects include hormone disruption, cancer and reproductive toxicity. Most of the scheduled chemical wastes are covered under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants and special care is taken to minimise their impacts on the environment.

This CCO establishes requirements for the management and control of the wastes that contain scheduled chemicals at a combined concentration above 2 mg/kg. It covers certain activities such as generating, processing, storing, distributing, conveying and disposing of scheduled chemical wastes. View the CCO (PDF 36KB).

Processing of scheduled chemical waste may require a technology assessment and approval by the EPA.

Page last updated: 22 September 2016