Chapter 19 of UNCED Agenda 21, whilst acknowledging that substantial use of chemicals is essential to meet the social and economic goals of the world community, identified two major problems, particularly in developing countries, namely (a) lack of sufficient scientific information for the assessment of risks entailed by the use of a great number of chemicals, and (b) lack of resources for assessment of chemicals for which data are at hand.

Chapter 19 is focused on the generation, harmonisation and dissemination of chemical data, and strengthening capacity for chemical management. The Agenda 21 programs and objectives for chemicals, to a large extent, reflect some important elements of the Rio Declaration including: Principle 9 (building capacity through developing and transferring scientific information), Principle 10 (the right of access to information or the right to know and the right to participate in decisions) and Principle 15 (the precautionary principle).

The risk assessment activities of NICNAS are fundamentally focussed on these principles. NICNAS assesses the health and environmental risks of new industrial chemicals entering Australia for the first time (by manufacture or import) before their use and subsequent release to the environment. NICNAS also assesses chemicals already in commerce based on environmental and/or health concerns. NICNAS assessment reports provide information and recommendations to regulators (including Commonwealth, States/Territories), industry and the general public. The development and operation of NICNAS represents significant capacity building in Australia for the management of chemicals.