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China to Tighten New Pollutants Management, Industries Facing Challenges on Source Control over Toxic and Hazardous Chemical Substances

China MEE issues a draft action plan on new pollutants treatment. It outlines the first batch of new pollutants for priority management, including 28 substances of which each is provided with its own management measures. · By 2022, the assessment plan for the first batch of priority chemical substances should be published. It will be updated dynamically and as planned the MEE will complete environmental risk assessment of 5-10 chemical substances per year. · By 2023, the standard on limits of short chain chlorinated paraffins in chlorinated paraffin products should be formulated. · By 2025, technical guidelines on data quality assessment, risk characterization, construction of emission scenarios, socio-economic impact assessment, etc. as well as a manual for environmental exposure parameters should be issued and the methods for toxicity tests should be revised.

On October 11, 2021, the Chinese Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE) published a notice[1] to seek public feedback on the draft Action Plan for New Pollutants Treatment (hereinafter referred to as the draft Plan). The draft Plan outlines the general requirements, goals and six major measures for new pollutants treatment, as well as the first batch of new pollutants for priority management in the annex. The consultation will end on October 22, 2021.

New pollutants can be newly discovered toxic and harmful substances, or substances that have been produced and used for many years, but whose harm has not been recognized. They are pollutants that have not yet been controlled or have only recently been controlled. Most of the new pollutants have common characteristics such as biological toxicity, environmental persistence, and bioaccumulation. 

The production and use of toxic and hazardous chemicals constitute a major source of new pollutants. Most new pollutants, even if with a low concentration, may pose severe environmental and health risks. It was made clear in the Outline of the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025) for National Economic and Social Development and Vision 2035 of the People’s Republic of China[2] that a bigger focus shall be placed on the treatment of new pollutants.

The draft Plan puts forward the goal of establishing a sound system for new pollutants treatments and managing a batch of new pollutants of high concern both at home and abroad by 2025. The first batch of new pollutants for priority management is specified in the annex of the draft Plan. It includes 28 types of chemicals. Notably, each type of chemical is provided with its own management measures, like prohibiting its production, processing, import, export, etc. For example, the production, use, import and export of hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD) is to be prohibited from December 26, 2021, and the waste HBCD should be subjected to environmental management as hazardous waste. Moreover, the list of new pollutants for priority management will be dynamically updated to cover more substances, including:

  • Environmental endocrine disruptors (EDC) and antibiotic-like substances which are of high concern both at home and abroad

  • Chemical substances listed under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants

  • Pollutants involved in the List of Toxic and Hazardous Air Pollutants and the List of Toxic and Hazardous Water Pollutants, etc., of which environmental risks cannot be effectively controlled by the existing measures

Based on the 14th Five-Year Plan, the goal of making the environmental risks posed by new pollutants basically under control by 2035 is set in the draft Plan as well. There are six measures specified in the draft Plan, main contents are listed as follows:

  • Optimizing the regulations and establishing a sound system for new pollutants treatments

  • Carrying out investigations and assessments on environmental risks of new pollutants

  • Strengthening source control managements for new pollutants

  • Reducing new pollutants emission

  • Keeping on reducing new pollutants environmental risks

  • Strengthening supervision and technical support

According to the draft Plan, a series of relevant regulations and standards are going to be formulated, revised or issued. For example, the Regulation on Environmental Management of Toxic and Hazardous Chemical Substances (previously known as the draft Regulations on Environmental Risk Assessment and Control of Chemical Substances[3] when drafted in 2019 for the first time) is under preparation. Requirements on new pollutants treatment and environmental risks management and control for toxic and hazardous chemicals are going to be added while revising the Environmental Protection Law, the Marine Environmental Protection Law and other related laws and regulations. In addition, timeline is provided for the issuance of the supporting national standards and technical guidelines.

  • By 2021, the Technical Guidelines for Screening of Priority Assessment Chemical Substances should be issued. It has been drafted for public comments in May 2021 (ChemLinked news).

  • By 2022, technical guidelines for hazard assessment and exposure assessment of chemical substances should be issued.

  • By 2023, the standard on limits of short chain chlorinated paraffins in chlorinated paraffin products should be formulated.

  • By 2025, technical guidelines on data quality assessment, risk characterization, construction of emission scenarios, socio-economic impact assessment, etc. as well as a manual for environmental exposure parameters should be issued and the methods for toxicity tests should be revised.

*The trial version of technical guidelines for hazard assessment, exposure assessment and risk characterization of chemical substances have been in force on December 24, 2020.

The draft Plan also deploys tasks on establishing sound systems for chemical information reporting, investigation and surveillance, environmental risk assessment and control of priority chemical substances, etc. More specially,

  • By 2022, the assessment plan for the first batch of priority chemical substances should be published. It will be updated dynamically and as planned the MEE will complete environmental risk assessment of 5-10 chemical substances per year.

  • By 2023, the first round of investigation on basic information of chemical substances circulating in the market should be finished, as well as investigation on the first batch of priority assessment chemical substances.

  • By 2025, a preliminary surveillance system for environmental investigation of new pollutants should be established.

Strengthening the source control is one of the major methods to prevent the generation of new pollutants. It’s stipulated in the draft Plan that enterprises should strictly comply with the MEE Order No.12[4], and the new chemical substances inspection will be incorporated into the annual work plan for environmental enforcement. The MEE will enforce more severe punishment for non-compliance of new chemical environmental management. In addition, stricter measures will be adopted to restrict and eliminate the import/export and use of some hazardous chemicals. For example, the registration or production license issuance of products with eliminated and restricted chemical substances, which are involved in the Catalogue for Guiding Industry Restructuring[5], will be limited.

The whole official document (see more details) can be downloaded here.

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