NICNAS’s activities are aligned with a series of ecologically sustainable development principles:
Decision-making processes should effectively integrate both long-term and short-term economic, environmental, social and equitable considerations.
NICNAS operates within an agreed framework for the management of chemicals that is consistent with the National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development, its principles and policies.
This framework aligns with the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) Agenda 21 (Rio Declaration), of which Chapter 19 relates to the environmentally sound management of toxic chemicals.
All NICNAS risk assessments are done within an internationally agreed policy framework that comprises a hazard assessment, dose-response relationships, exposure assessment and risk assessment, including risk management options.
The hazard assessment identifies the intrinsic ability of the chemical to cause harm to human health and/or the environment. The potential for exposure of human and environmental species is ascertained for each chemical based on its known or anticipated use pattern.
The risk assessment integrates both the hazard assessment and exposure assessment to make a risk estimate and risk management strategies where unacceptable risks are identified.
In recommending risk management strategies, economic and social benefit is balanced with the economic, political and social costs of implementing the strategies. Risk management also involves monitoring, evaluating and reviewing the strategies recommended.
If there are threats of serious or irreversible environmental damage, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing measures to prevent environmental degradation.
The precautionary principle guides health and environmental risk assessments and forms the basis of the science-based risk assessment for industrial chemicals. This principle is applied in particular where international chemicals policy negotiations may need to rely on precaution.
Caution is applied in line with the principles of ecologically sustainable development and the UNCED Agenda 21, Principle 15 (the precautionary approach).
The principle of inter-generational equity – that the present generation should ensure that the health, diversity and productivity of the environment is maintained or enhanced for the benefit of future generations, and
The conservation of biological diversity and ecological integrity should be a fundamental consideration in decision-making
NICNAS’s risk assessments aim to preserve the integrity of the environment and its biodiversity.
The known or anticipated use pattern of the chemical is characterised within the context of the risk assessment, taking into account Australia’s demography and ecosystems.
The outcome of the NICNAS assessment provides the information necessary for informed, objective and transparent decision-making, including trade-off s between competing objectives of current utility and future adverse environmental effects.
Improved valuation pricing and incentive mechanisms should be promoted.
NICNAS’s low regulatory concern chemicals reforms, implemented in 2005-06, include strategies that encourage the introduction of less hazardous chemicals that pose a lower risk to the environment.
Promoting new technologies through direct financial incentives (for chemicals that pose a lower regulatory risk will result in a more sustainable overall regulatory framework, as well as a more sustainable chemical industry in Australia
Chapter 19 of UNCED Agenda 21, while 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.
These are: a lack of sufficient scientific information for the assessment of risks entailed by the use of a great number of chemicals; and a lack of resources for assessment of chemicals for which data are at hand.
Chapter 19 is concentrating on generating, harmonising and disseminating 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”).
NICNAS’s risk assessment activities apply these principles.
They assess 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.
Its assessment reports provide information and recommendations to regulators (including the Commonwealth, States and Territories), industry and the general public.
The positive environmental effects of NICNAS assessment activities are outlined above.