Chemical Regulation in China

Regulating Thousands of Compounds: A Daunting Task

Chemical management on a global scale has proven a daunting task but several steps have been made in recent years. In 2001, the Stockholm Convention attempted to write a global treaty either banning or seriously reducing the amount of persistent organic pollutants, POP’s, from entering the environment. Despite different categorization, industrial, pesticides, or others, these chemicals are all toxic, persistent, bioaccumulative, and undergo long-range transport. In the 10 years since its birth, it has added 10 new POP’s, has a membership of 172 countries, and continues to work with other organizations to reduce these pollutants. The Basel Convention, another global convention, is focused on hazardous waste travel and disposal, including e-waste. It runs a very successful program to certify responsible electronics recyclers.

Local programs regulating toxic and hazardous chemicals have been around for a bit longer. In the US, the EPA regulates chemicals under Federal Insecticide Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA-1996), Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA-1976) as well as under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDC-2002). There has been much discussion about the failure of TSCA to regulate new chemicals like flame-retardants, fluorinated compounds, and nanoparticles and has very little achievements to show for such a long time in action. It ridden with loopholes and allows chemical companies to keep confidential business information away from the public, and unfortunately also from researchers. We are desperate need of a better way to allow chemical companies to do business while obtaining the information needed to create reliable data and sound judgments. In Europe, REACH (2007) provides guidelines for importing, exporting, and manufacture of thousands of chemicals. It is more proactive in nature than reactionary, a pitfall of many US regulations, but has been criticized as being too complex and costly. With the rapid expansion, growth, and urbanization of China, and no doubt the increased usage of a variety of chemicals, how does our East Asian counterpart measure up?

Chemical Regulation in China

Brief Policy Timeline

2003: The NRDC (National Development and Reformation Committee) wrote up provisions to previous policy regarding the recycling of waste household appliances and electronic products.

2008: The Ministry of Agriculture created six new regulations for pesticides and phased out the use of very toxic compounds

2010: Order 7; enforced by MEP brought China’s chemical regulations up to standards pioneered by the United States and Europe. It required chemical companies to register compounds and evaluate them for potential human and environmental health risks. Additionally, it pushed the idea that chemicals belong to different categories and that higher production means more data is needed on health effects. It has been dubbed ‘China REACH”.

2010: Inventory of Existing Chemical Substances Produced or Imported in China (IECSC) was updated 2011: Regulations were put into place that would certify and provide government subsidies for e-waste recyclers, imposing strict fines for non-compliance. Furthermore, pressure would be placed on manufacturers of electronic goods to make less toxic, easier- to-recycle goods.

These recent advancements in Chinese policy are no doubt profound and important. The US Environmental Defense Fund even states that the new ‘China REACH’ has exceeded US regulations and is something that “includes the very same elements the U.S. industry has been warning would send chemical production and innovation running to China if they were to be adopted in the U.S.” Given that China is second only to the US in the production of chemicals, this fact gives me hope. Regulation by itself, however, is not the only thing needed. The enforcement of policy is key to the success of environmental law and must be done with rigor and diligence. Only time will tell if these laws will prove to be successful in regulating chemical usage and protecting humans and the environment from harm. One thing is clear though; the U.S. needs to ‘step it up’ so to speak. With failing policies and much overdue reforms of previous legislation, on top of the manufacture of tons of new chemicals each year, it’s time we revise our own chemical regulations.

Read more about ‘China REACH’ here: