Chemicals are used widely – in industry, forestry, for agricultural and veterinary purposes (known as ‘agvet’ chemicals) and therapeutically – and they play an essential role in modern society. However, avoiding environmental harm from their manufacture, use and disposal requires assessment and management across their entire life cycle. In addition to the synthetic biochemicals of the past few decades, the impact of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is an emerging issue which blurs the boundaries between the management of chemicals and biodiversity.
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NSW is part of a national chemicals management system that applies across various sectors of the economy, including primary production, industry, pharmaceutical and therapeutic goods,construction, occupational health and safety, and the environmental management sector. The national system operates within an international framework of treaties and obligations. In NSW, contaminated land and sediments and stockpiles of intractable wastes which are legacies of past chemical use have been actively regulated for decades. Well-established frameworks also manage the risks that agvet chemicals may pose to the health and safety of workers, the general public and consumers. From these, two main areas of reporting systems for contaminated sites and chemical residues in food and produce have matured over the past decade or so.
However, as in many countries, risks to the NSW environment from the use of chemicals in a range of applications have not been comprehensively managed. These include their use in commercial and residential construction and maintenance (building materials, paints, domestic cleaning products and insecticides) and as pharmaceutical and therapeutic chemicals, as well as GMOs. Tens of thousands of chemicals are manufactured and, although their production and industrial use are controlled, their impacts on places of work, residence and recreation are largely unknown.
Source: NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change
New South Wales State of the Environment 2009
Chemicals in the NSW Environment