Lost in the blur of the war in Ukraine, our own Omicron wave and a doomsday UN climate assessment is another warning about near and present danger to the world around us.

This comes in a just-released report by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment titled, Knowing what’s out there: Regulating the environmental fate of chemicals. It notes:

Every developed country except New Zealand has constructed what are known as pollution release and transfer registers (PRTRs). A PRTR is a national platform for collecting data on known discharges to the environment. They enable countries to join the dots between permitted discharges of potentially harmful substances to the environment and environmental monitoring that picks up traces of contaminants. 

There are over 30,000 chemicals approved for use across New Zealand. Only about 3,500 substances have ever been the subject of individual approvals and only around 200 chemicals are routinely tested for in terms of our receiving environments. This report focuses on the potential threat these pose to the environment, as opposed to human health.

Commissioner Simon Upton comments: “While not all chemicals present a high level of concern, there is a lot we don’t know about chemicals reaching our environment, including how much is used, where they are used, and the effects they are having. Finding out after chemicals have caused irrevocable impacts on the environment is too late.” 

The Commissioner proposes that all agencies dealing with chemicals, alongside Māori, develop a common framework to better manage the environmental impacts of chemical use. This framework should prioritise action on contaminants that pose the highest risk based on how much a chemical is being used, the potential environmental harm it could cause, and how much of it is being detected in the environment. 

Says Upton, “While we cannot test every ecosystem for every chemical in New Zealand, we can do more to target those of highest potential risk to the environment. We also need to do a better job of setting limits for acceptable concentrations of chemicals in the environment and monitor whether these levels are being exceeded.” 


Here is the full report.

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