INSIGHT: Companies need to be aware of China’s tightening control of polluting chemicals

Nigel Davis

27-Jun-2022

LONDON (ICIS)–Legislation to control the use of polluting and hazardous chemicals is under scrutiny worldwide as the number of new substances on the market rises and research points to new areas of concern.

In the EU, the outcome of a review of the Reach chemicals registration and authorisation regulatory system will drive that agenda for the chemical industry for one or two decades, a senior industry executive has highlighted.

In the US, the industry and regulators are at odds on tightening chemicals control with the sector calling for stable, cost-effective policies in the face of severe delays in approving new chemicals under the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA).

A recent petition has called for greenhouse gases (GHG) to be regulated under the TSCA, which would be a major step in implementing a widespread polluter-pays principle.

And, in the world’s largest market for chemicals by far, China, the use of chemicals that are harmful to human health and to the environment will be controlled more effectively, lawyers have noted, with widespread consequences.

China issued an action plan on controlling new pollutants on 24 May: it requires inspection and monitoring to identify new high-risk pollutants, according to a release from the State Council.

Under the current five-year plan, special action will be taken against a batch of polluting chemicals with screening of high concern and “high-yield” chemicals to by completed by 2025.

Laws and management systems on chemical-related environmental issues “will be gradually established and improved”, a release from the Council in English said at the time.

A list of the new pollutants is expected by the end of 2022 and companies trading with China or manufacturing there will need to determine whether there is any business risk associated with continuing to produce, use, process, import or discharge the chemicals in China, according to law firm Squire  Patton Boggs.

The emphasis here is on ‘new’ pollutants, categorised earlier this year by a Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE) spokesperson as persistent organic pollutants, endocrine disruptors, antibiotics, and microplastics.

The types of chemicals falling under these categories is expected to continue to increase.

The general idea is to screen, evaluate and control what are considered to be the new pollutants – as opposed to well-known pollutants such as sulphur dioxide – leading to governing a reduction in use and prohibition.

Squire Patton Boggs said in a recent edition of the National Law Review in the US that it is no secret that China has struggled with implementing measures for pollution control and regulating hazardous chemicals, but described the latest developments as the country’s most focused plan yet.

It is known as the New Pollutant Control Action Plan and “will likely have far-reaching impacts on companies manufacturing, using, or discharging certain chemicals in China,” according to Danelle Gagliardi, from the law firm’s chemicals team.

“It could also impact companies outside of China importing chemicals into China,” she added.

A first round of risk assessments on “priority chemicals” and of surveys on basic information on chemicals will be completed before the end of 2023.

The surveys and more detailed investigations are likely to cover the production, processing, use, and discharge, etc, of priority chemicals.

“This may lead to a series of information requests from the MEE to producers, processors and importers of various high-risk chemicals,” Gagliardi said.

Companies that discharge the new pollutants may need to take measures to meet new standards and monitoring disclosing information to the MEE.

There will be new requirements for medical, pesticides, and antibiotic wastes – and there could be severe restrictions on some of the ‘new’ pollutants.

The State Council said that pilot projects for new pollutant control will be caried out at selected enterprises in the industrial parks in the Yangtze and Yellow River basis, in key drinking water sources and key estuaries and bays.

The Plan promotes financial supportive measures, including preferential tax for new pollutant treatment, and encourages financial institutions to increase credit for companies to develop new pollutant treatment.

Technical rules and guidance on the regulations are expected to be released, so that companies can comply with the goals of the Plan.

Insight by Nigel Davis

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