Management Of Chemicals - The Long Road Ahead

Past President, Indian Chemical Council

It is is a matter of serious concern for everyone associated with the chemical industry, directly or indirectly, that it does not enjoy the reputation it deserves by virtue of the great service it renders to the Society. The suspicion and disrespect in the public mind partly arise out of concerns for safe operation of manufacturing, storage or transportation facilities and for environmental emissions originating therefrom. These have, however, been addressed on an ongoing basis through legislations, rules and inspections by the regulatory authorities. They are further augmented by voluntary initiatives, such as Responsible Care. Over the last few decades, with the continuing efforts of ICC and its members, there is a substantial increase in the consciousness for safety and ecology across the industry.

However, there is another facet to the unfavorable image, which is on account of inappropriate use of chemicals or their harmful effects, when chemicals which should not be allowed for indiscriminate use, find their way into households for want of an adequate systemic architecture for the management of chemicals.

Earlier this year, Korea Chemicals Management Association had organized an international conference on management of chemicals, in Seoul. This forum was also used to discuss the launch of the Korean REACH legislation, which would come into effect in January 2015.
Country/regional presentations were made at the Conference on behalf of the USA, Canada, European Union, Singapore, Taiwan, China, Japan and South Korea, apart from India. It was very apparent from these presentations that most other chemical producing (and consuming) nations are substantially ahead of India in their legislations regarding the use of and restrictions on toxic or hazardous chemicals, in spite of some of their chemical industries being much smaller or narrower than that of India.

Status in India: India has been a signatory to several international conventions which deal with the use of chemicals. These include:

  • Chemical Weapons Convention
  • Rotterdam Convention on Prior Informed Consent procedure for hazardous pesticides and chemicals
  • Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants
  • Montreal Protocol on substances that deplete the Ozone layer
  • Minamata Convention on Mercury
  • Basel Convention on trans-boundary movement of hazardous waste

In addition, we have multiple legislations which focus primarily on manufacture and transportation. These include the Environmental Protection Act, Factories Act, Motor Vehicles Act, Explosives Act, Insecticide Act and Petroleum Act. These are being dealt with by different Ministries, including Environment and Forests, Labour, Commerce and Industry, Petroleum and Natural Gas, Agriculture, Shipping and Surface Transport, some of them at the Central level and the others at the levels of both the Centre and the States. It would be relevant to note that some of these laws were framed several decades ago and despite the perceived and urgent need for their updation and harmonization, not much has been done in this regard.

India is also a party to the initiative known as Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM), which lays down a roadmap for the participating countries to make the use of chemicals safer. It is a policy framework to promote chemical safety around the world.

It would be relevant to mention the origin of SAICM. Based on the observations of an expert group meeting in April 1996, which made recommendations in four areas, namely: inadequate capacity of developing countries to handle issues of hazardous chemicals and pesticides, disposal of unwanted stocks of pesticides and other chemicals, insufficient information for chemicals management decision-making and action and possible need to ban and phase out certain chemicals. It was recognized to develop a sound chemicals management practice. This initiative emerged from the fact that the consumption of chemicals by all industries and modern society’s reliance on chemicals for virtually all manufacturing processes make chemical production one of the major and most globalized sectors of the world economy.

SAICM defines a policy framework to foster the sound worldwide management and safe use of chemicals. This initiative covers risk assessments of chemicals and harmonized labeling up to tackling obsolete and stockpiled products. It includes provisions for national centres aimed at helping the developing world, train staff in chemical safety as also dealing with spills and accidents.

SAICM has as its overall objective the achievement of sound management of chemicals throughout their life cycle, in order that by 2020, chemicals would be produced and used in ways that minimize significant adverse impacts on human health and the environment. This "2020 goal” was adopted by the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002 as part of the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation.

The Road ahead: It needs to be recognized that in order to achieve the 2020 objectives, India would need to take steps quickly, concurrently and effectively in several areas, including the following:

  • Inventorisation of chemical manufacturers (and storage facilities)
  • Inventorisation of Chemical substances in use, including relevant physical, chemical, ecological and toxicological data about them
  • Legislation for Classification, Labeling and Packaging
  • Legislation on Registration, Evaluation and Approval of toxic or dangerous chemicals

Countries, such as China and South Korea, have already completed much of this effort. (China has an inventory of about 45,000 chemicals in use in the country, an effort that has taken it several years to accomplish). In contrast, India had a pilot of compiling an inventory of 4,600 chemicals but little seems to have been done beyond this effort. The Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers has in the recent past expressed a strong desire to create an inventory of chemical producers, but this effort has not even commenced.

Approach: Considering the efforts needed to achieve the 2020 target and the time it has taken other countries to do so, the following approach merits urgent attention of the Government:

 It is necessary that one nodal Ministry be entrusted with the preparation of a roadmap and its implementation. The Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers would appear to be the most appropriate in this regard.

  •  As suggested in the Draft Chemical Policy, the National Centre for Chemicals (NCC) needs to be set up, with a structure and staff appropriate to take up the inventorisations referred to above. The Centre should be the repository for all relevant data and must be the vehicle that would be responsible for establishing the chemical management architecture for India
  •  While we have scattered but substantial information available (with the Excise and Customs authorities under the Department of Revenue, DGFT and the State Pollution Control Boards) about chemical industries operating in India, there is neither any integration of this valuable information, nor a legislation in place to enable an agency such as NCC to tap them in order to convert these data into information and, eventually, useful knowledge. A legislative Knowledge Management initiative to delve into these databanks by NCC would thus be a useful exercise
  •  It is equally important to create market intelligence about capacities, product ranges, imports, exports and technological capabilities at the individual unit level, for the eventual growth and internationalization of the industry. While compiling the Chemical Management Databank, these commercial needs could also be kept in view and the templates designed accordingly.
  •  A draft has been prepared and debated for Dangerous Goods (Classification, Packaging and labeling) Rules 2011, which covers nine hazard classes and three packaging groups. However, it has yet to be placed before the Parliament and there seems to be no defined time frame to do so. This would be another priority area.
  •  There have been suggestions from time to time that India should have its own REACH legislation. While the substantial infrastructure and resources needed for this purpose may not be desirable at this stage, the Government would need to consider, in consultation with all stakeholders and having regard to corresponding legislations abroad, a suitable regulatory framework, which would be in line with its SAICM commitments.

During the last two decades, especially after the economic reforms, the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers and the chemical industry associations, led by ICC, have worked very closely and harmoniously, to raise the size, stature, image and competitiveness of the Indian chemical industry, for it to achieve its justifiable standing in the global context. The Government and the industry now need to work equally closely to formulate and implement the above project for management of chemicals in order to ensure that our international obligations are honoured in a timely and professional manner.