New duties on chemical suppliers to provide environmental data

A comprehensive overhaul of Britain's legislation on the classification, packaging and labelling (CPL) of dangerous chemicals has been completed by the Health and Safety Commission (HSC). New regulations which come into force on 1 September will require for the first time that substances dangerous to the environment must - at least in principle - carry a special warning symbol and appropriate risk and safety phrases, backed up by more detailed information in safety data sheets on environmental hazards and acceptable containment and disposal methods.

The new "CHIP" regulations were issued together with several approved codes of practice and guides.1 The rules belatedly implement several EC Directives on dangerous substances and preparations and safety data sheets.

The CHIP regulations replace existing CPL rules from 1984. Although they deal with both the supply and carriage of dangerous chemicals, their principal impacts will be on supply.

Under the old CPL regulations, the principal duties on suppliers and consignors of chemicals were to label and package them safely. Under the new regulations, however, it will be an offence to supply a substance or preparation until it has been classified for its hazards in accordance with prescribed rules.

Two basic routes to classification are available. Where a substance is on the HSC's "approved list", the relevant danger categories and risk and safety phrases for use on labels must be those given in the document. Where a substance is not on the approved list, suppliers must carry out an "investigation to become aware of relevant and accessible data" before classifying it in accordance with criteria given in a classification and labelling guide. Separate classification rules for dangerous preparations are given in the guide.

Another important new duty on suppliers is the provision of a safety data sheet for dangerous chemicals to all their recipients, other than the general public. The information on a data sheet must be given under 16 headings specified in a schedule. The regulations oblige suppliers to revise data sheets "forthwith if any significant new information becomes available regarding risks to human health or the protection of the environment", and to pass the revised document to all recipients of the chemical concerned within the previous 12 months.

Anyone classifying a dangerous substance or preparation for supply will be obliged to keep records of the information on which the classification was based for at least three years after the last date on which it was supplied. The constituents of certain dangerous preparations will also have to be notified to poisons advisory centres.

In principle, the CHIP regulations should provide chemical users with considerably more information on environmental hazards and safeguards. The symbol to be used for chemicals dangerous to the environment - a dead fish and leafless tree - should alert users. The list of risk phrases to be used on labels includes ten phrases indicating danger to aquatic life, other organisms, the ozone layer, and the environment in general. And five new safety phrases will indicate whether chemicals should be contained or recovered, whether releases to the environment should be avoided, and where chemicals should be treated as hazardous waste.

In addition, two of the 16 specified headings for safety data sheets deal with environmental hazards. According to an approved code of practice, suppliers should provide information on the possible environmental effects, behaviour and fate of dangerous chemicals, including as appropriate descriptions of their persistence, bioaccumulation potential and toxicity to aquatic organisms and behaviour in sewage works. And appropriate disposal methods will also have to be indicated.

However, in practice the potential of these arrangements to provide extra environmental safeguards may take some time to be realised. The main reason for this is that the HSC's approved list to be used for classification purposes appears to contain none of the environmental risk and safety phrases for the many hundreds of chemicals listed - even for notorious pollutants such as PCBs and ozone depleting substances. When these will be entered in the approved list is unknown.

Although the CHIP regulations enter into force on 1 September, businesses complying with the CPL rules will have until 1 September 1994 to change over to the CHIP system. A further six-month transitional period has also been allowed in certain circumstances for chemicals in small packages.

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