Banned or restricted chemicals in Australia
We are often asked about chemicals that are banned or restricted for use in Australia. The introduction of chemicals – whether by importation or manufacture – is regulated on a national level by different government schemes, depending on the intended use of the chemical.
Many hazardous chemicals can still be used if appropriate controls are in place. However, some chemicals are too dangerous for any use and have been banned or are being phased out. Examples of these are polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and asbestos.
You can access information about the restrictions that apply to particular chemicals from 4 major national regulators who specialise in different types of uses:
- industrial chemicals – NICNAS
- pesticides and veterinary medicines – Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicine Authority (APVMA)
- medicines and medicinal products – Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA)
- food additives and contaminants – Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ).
Other schemes play a role in regulating different parts of a chemical's life cycle, including:
- transport and storage – National Transport Commission (NTC)
- occupational health and safety – Safe Work Australia (SWA)
- environmental management – Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment
- public health – Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA)
- use and disposal of the chemical – Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment and Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Compliance with restrictions on the access, use and disposal of chemicals is usually managed at the state and territory level. National standards or codes of practice are reflected in state and territory legislation to provide more uniform controls across Australia.
Some chemicals also have controls managed by an international convention:
- Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer
- Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer
- Stockholm Convention – persistent organic pollutants
- Rotterdam Convention – banned or severely restricted pesticides and industrial chemicals
- Basel Convention – hazardous waste
- Chemical Weapons Convention.
Listing of chemicals
There is no single list of all banned or restricted chemicals, but for many types of chemicals, only those on a specified list are permitted. For example, only chemicals listed on NICNAS’s chemical inventory can be freely introduced for an industrial use in Australia. If a chemical is not listed, further obligations may apply.
Chemical restrictions in Australia
Certain goods have controls on their importation into, and export from, Australia.
These controls are managed by Australian Border Force (ABF) and either takes the form of:
- an absolute prohibition – you are not allowed to import or export the goods in any circumstance, or
- a restriction – you need written permission to import or export the goods.
Safe Work Australia (SWA) develops national workplace health and safety (WHS) and workers’ compensation policy. This includes the safe use of chemicals in the workplace. SWA does not monitor compliance with WHS laws. This is the responsibility of other Australian Government and state and territory agencies.
Restrictions on the use and labelling of workplace hazardous chemicals are available in:
- Model Code of Practice – Managing risks of hazardous chemicals in the workplace
- Model Code of Practice – Labelling of workplace hazardous chemicals.
The Poisons Standard classifies medicines and poisons into schedules for reference by state and territory legislation. It also includes provisions on:
- containers and labels
- a list of products recommended to be exempt from these provisions
- recommendations on other drugs and poisons controls.
The Australian Dangerous Goods Code (ADG) covers the road and rail transportation of dangerous goods, including:
- infectious, radioactive and waste products and materials
- other environmentally hazardous substances
- packaging and labelling requirements.
The ADG Code also lists substances too dangerous to transport.
The ADG is applied separately in each state and territory. Businesses must comply with their state / territory specific act and regulations and the Code.
Vienna Convention and Montreal Protocol – ozone protection
The Vienna Convention seeks to protect the earth’s ozone layer. It does this by researching and monitoring chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and similar chemicals.
The Montreal Protocol sets targets under the convention’s framework. Together, the convention and protocol seek to phase out ozone depleting substances (ODSs).
The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment implements the convention and protocol in Australia by providing controls for the manufacture, import, export and major end-uses of all ODSs and synthetic greenhouse gases (SGGs). State and territory governments regulate the supply, sale and use of ozone depleting substances.
Stockholm Convention - persistent organic pollutants (POPs)
The Stockholm Convention is designed to protect human health and the environment from the effects of POPs. These toxic chemicals persist in the environment, accumulate in food chains and become widely distributed.
The Stockholm Convention provides controls to reduce and eliminate POPs. This includes import and export of POPs and management of stockpiles and wastes containing POPs.
The Rotterdam Convention
The Rotterdam Convention was initiated to protect human health and the environment from certain hazardous chemicals. This is done through shared responsibility in the international trade of these chemicals. The Rotterdam Convention provides information and guidance so countries can make informed decisions about the chemicals they want to receive, and exclude those they cannot manage safely.
The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment is the lead Australian agency for the Rotterdam Convention and NICNAS implements the convention for industrial use chemicals.
The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Waste and Their Disposal
The Basel Convention aims to protect human health and the environment against adverse effects of hazardous wastes and in Australia is managed by the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment.
The convention places obligations on parties to:
- minimise generation of hazardous waste
- ensure adequate disposal facilities are available
- control and reduce international movements of hazardous waste
- ensure environmentally sound management of wastes
- prevent and punish illegal traffic.
Chemical Weapons Convention
The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) bans the development, production, possession or use of chemical weapons. CWC also requires the safe destruction of existing weapons.
The CWC is implemented in Australia by the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office (ASNO).
Last update 5 February 2020