04 Feb 2000

NICNAS's assessment of the chemical trichloroethylene as a carcinogen and possible mutagen has been upheld by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal against a challenge by Dow Chemical Australia Limited.

"The Tribunal's decision reaffirms NICNAS's role in protecting Australian workers, the general public and the environment from harmful chemicals," said the Director of NICNAS, Dr Margaret Hartley.

Trichloroethylene is widely used as an industrial, chlorinated solvent with occupational and public exposure and is commonly used for cleaning metals.

Based on its widespread use, NICNAS assessed trichloroethylene under its Priority Existing Chemical (PEC) program, applying the National Occupational Health and Safety Commission's Approved Criteria for Classifying Hazardous Substances. NICNAS published its draft report on 5 May 1998, which it is required to distribute to industry for comment.

Dow Chemical Australia subsequently applied to NICNAS for variations to the draft report's classification of the chemical as a Category 2 carcinogen (a substance which should be regarded as likely to cause cancer in humans), and Category 3 mutagen (a substance which causes concern because of possible genetic damage to humans).

The Director of NICNAS refused to make the changes requested by Dow on the grounds of accuracy under Section 60E(5) of the Industrial Chemicals (Notification and Assessment) Act 1989.

The Tribunal handed down its decision on NICNAS's report on trichloroethylene on 31 December 1999. The 28-day period for appeals to that decision has expired with no further application from Dow Chemical Australia.

One of the outcomes of the NICNAS report will be that the chemical's labels should now state the risk of causing cancer and of possible mutagenic effects. Copies of the full report will be available in early March and can be obtained free from NICNAS by phoning (02) 9577 9490.


The National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme (NICNAS) operates under the Commonwealth Industrial Chemicals (Notification and Assessment) Act 1989.

NICNAS is a statutory scheme within the portfolio of the Minister for Health and Ageing. Its approach to the scientific assessment of chemicals covers toxicity, exposure and use to assess the environmental, public health and occupational health and safety risk. For more information see the web site www.nicnas.gov.au

Further information

Nick Miller, NICNAS, (02) 8577 8810 or 0407 228 285