Environment Law in the Northern Territory

Introduction to chemicals regulation

In the Northern Territory, chemicals are regulated by Commonwealth laws and by Northern Territory laws.

At the Commonwealth level, chemicals are regulated according to four categories. These are:

  • industrial chemicals regulated by the Industrial Chemicals (Notification & Assessment) Act 1989
  • agricultural and veterinary chemicals (such as pesticides) regulated by the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals (Administration) Act 1992Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Act 1994Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Code Act 1994, and Agricultural and Veterinary Chemical Products (Collection of Levy) Act 1994
  • medicines and medicinal products regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Act 1989
  • food additives regulated by Food Standards Australia New Zealand Act 1991, Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code

This Fact Sheet explains Commonwealth laws on industrial chemicals. It also explains Northern Territory laws which regulate chemicals generally.

Fact Sheet 8.2 on Introduction to regulation of pesticides and fertilisers explains how agricultural and veterinary chemicals (such as pesticides) are regulated.

Commonwealth regulation of industrial chemicals

The Commonwealth Industrial Chemicals (Notification & Assessment) Act 1989 and Industrial Chemicals (Notification and Assessment) Regulations 1990 establish a national system for identifying and assessing industrial chemicals and registering people who introduce chemicals to Australia. Industrial chemicals are chemicals which have an industrial use.  They include laboratory chemicals, paints, solvents, dyes and adhesives, amongst others.

The National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme (called NICNAS) is the Australian regulator for industrial chemicals. NICNAS is responsible for assessing the risks of new and existing chemicals on human health and the environment and preparing Chemical Assessment Reports. The Australian Inventory of Chemical Substances is a list of all industrial chemicals in use in Australia between 1 January 1977 and 28 February 1990, which allows NICNAS to identify new and existing chemicals.

Not all chemicals in use have been assessed. Any person or organisation with concerns about the environmental, occupational or public health effects of an industrial chemical can nominate a chemical for assessment.

Northern Territory laws on chemicals

Northern Territory laws regulate how chemicals are stored, transported, handled, and disposed of in the Northern Territory. Some Northern Territory laws on pollution, waste and the protection of public health are also relevant to chemicals.

Storage and transport of chemicals

The Northern Territory Dangerous Goods Act and Dangerous Goods Regulations regulate substances considered to be dangerous goods. These include chemicals and chemical substances that are explosive, flammable, toxic, corrosive or exhibit chemical properties that are potentially dangerous to people or property. People handling dangerous goods are required to make sure that the goods are handled, stored and transported safely.

Dangerous goods transported by road or rail must comply with the Northern Territory Transport of Dangerous Goods by Road and Rail (National Uniform Legislation Act and Transport of Dangerous Goods by Road and Rail (National Uniform Legislation) Regulations.

NT WorkSafe officers, police officers and members of the fire and rescue service have wide powers to enter premises, inspect and seize property, dispose of, destroy and give directions about dangerous goods.5 NT WorkSafe can issue prohibition notices to stop activities which cause or are likely to cause imminent risks to health or of injury to people or property. NT WorkSafe can also issue improvement notices, which require action to be taken to improve handling of dangerous goods.

Prosecutions under the Dangerous Goods Act may only be started with the written consent of NT WorkSafe and within 3 years of an offence under the Dangerous Goods Act and Dangerous Goods Regulations taking place or being discovered.

Chemicals may also be regulated by the Public Health (Noxious Trades) Regulations, which require certain industries to keep offensive matter stored and transported in appropriate containers.

If you are concerned about the handling, storage or transport of dangerous chemicals, you can report your concerns to NT WorkSafe.

Poisons

Chemicals which are considered to be poisons are regulated under the Northern Territory Poisons and Dangerous Drugs Act. Poisons are chemicals that are listed in Schedules 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8 or 9 or Appendix C of the Poisons and Dangerous Drugs Act.

The Poisons and Dangerous Drugs Act regulates how poisons are manufactured, supplied and stored in the Northern Territory. The Act requires manufacturers and wholesalers of poisons to be registered and retailers of poisons to be licensed.

Poisons must be stored in a way that prevents public access to the poison.

There are a number of criminal offences under the Poisons and Dangerous Drugs Act for storing chemicals or possession, use, production or manufacture and importation into the Territory of prohibited poisons or hazardous substances.

Chemical pollution and waste

Chemicals may also be considered to be pollution or waste12 which are regulated by the Northern Territory Waste Management and Pollution Control Act. If chemicals are spilled into water, they may be considered pollution under the Northern Territory Water Act or the Northern Territory Marine Pollution Act. For more information on pollution and waste laws, read our Fact Sheet on Introduction to pollution and waste laws in the Northern Territory.

Public health

Chemicals may also be considered to be a risk to public health or environmental health under the Northern Territory Public and Environmental Health Act 2011 and Public Health (Nuisance Prevention) RegulationsA public health nuisance is anything that puts, has put or will put at risk or damages, has damaged or will damage public health. Public health means the physical, mental and social wellbeing of the community.

There are several regulations under the Northern Territory Public and Environmental Health Act 2011 for the protection of public health. The Public Health (Noxious Trades) Regulations are relevant to chemicals. Businesses that carry out “noxious trades” such as chemical works, dye works and glue factories must ensure that vapour, gas, dust and effluent fluids are disposed of properly. An operator that breaches the regulations may have its licence to carry out a noxious trade cancelled by the Chief Health Officer or may be prosecuted. The Public and Environmental Health Act 2011 and subordinate regulations are administered by the Department of Health.

For more information on nuisance, read our Fact Sheet on Nuisance, negligence and trespass.

Chemicals in the workplace

An employer has a duty under the Northern Territory Workplace Health and Safety Act and Workplace Health and Safety Regulations to ensure as far as reasonably practicable that workers and others are not exposed to risks to health or safety arising from the employer’s business. This means that risks to health and safety (including from chemicals) must be identified and assessed. Employers must notify the Northern Territory Work Health Authority of any incidents creating a risk of a work-related accident arising from the escape, spillage, or leakage of a harmful or potentially harmful substance. NT WorkSafe is the regulator for the Northern Territory Work Health Authority.