China to step up efforts to control ‘new chemical pollutants’

“New pollutants” refer to pollutants that pose risks to the environment or human health, but are not managed yet or cannot be managed through existing measures so that the risks are contained. These include various toxic chemicals including persistent organic pollutants, endocrine disrupting chemicals and antibiotics.

By the end of 2022, the Ministry of Ecology and Environment will publish China’s first list of “new pollutants” for priority control, according to an action plan released by the State Council on 26 May 2022.

China Dialogue reports that “by the end of next year, the ministry should complete its first round of environmental risk assessment for a selected set of chemical pollutants, to understand their production, use and emissions patterns in the country.”

“Chemicals in the priority control list will be subject to restrictions and bans, states the action plan. Industry regulators will amend the “Catalogue for guiding industry restructuring”, a document aimed at upgrading China’s economy to high-quality development, in accordance with the priority control list, so as to phase out certain products such as industrial chemicals, pesticides and cosmetics. Environmental impact assessments will be strengthened to prevent new industrial projects from engaging in activities that use or emit the listed new pollutants.”

“The action plan is a major step towards plugging a regulatory loophole in China’s management of hazardous chemicals. For a long time, regulators have prioritised the control of highly visible pollution such as smog, while chemical safety regulators have focussed on immediately impactful chemicals like explosives and flammables. Thus tens of thousands of chemical substances circulating on the Chinese market, many posing long-term risks to human health and the natural world, have been falling through the cracks.”

“The action plan also calls for the creation of a State Council regulation on managing the risks of hazardous chemicals. If materialised, that would provide strong legal authority for environmental regulators to control a wide range of pollutants involved in industry, agriculture and medicine.”

Development of China’s draft plan for new chemical pollutants management

In October 2021, China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment released a draft of the New Pollutant Management Action Plan (新污染物治理行动方案 (征求意见稿)) The plan has been developed to manage new pollutants more effectively.

Following is an overview of the draft action plan: