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Was the APVMA slow in taking regulatory action against endosulfan?

30 June 2011

The claim

Environmentalists have argued that the APVMA was slow in taking regulatory action against the insecticide endosulfan. They base their view on the fact that perhaps as many as 60 other countries made the decision against endosulfan before Australia. The only conclusion one can draw, they argue, is that the Australian regulatory system is slow and ineffective and that Australians were unnecessarily put at risk.

The response

Australian legislation requires that a chemical can only remain on the Australian market if the APVMA is satisfied it can be used safely. If credible evidence emerges about a safety concern, the APVMA must take action to further regulate the use and availability of that chemical until that concern is effectively managed. This is done by using measures such as restricting use to fewer crops, restricting access to the chemical to only specially trained people, requiring personal protective equipment, requiring buffer zones, setting withholding periods, prescribing allowable concentrations of particular active constituents and other similar measures. It is only when the evidence suggests that a risk cannot be managed that the APVMA can de-register a chemical and remove it from the market place.

The APVMA progressively responded to concerns about endosulfan in 1995, 2002 and 2005. In each case, responding to advice from the Office of Chemical Safety and Environmental Health in the Department of Health and Ageing (OCSEH) and the Department of the Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (DSEWPAC), additional layers of regulation were imposed to the point where the chemical was very tightly controlled. These restrictions included;

  • controls on who could purchase and use endosulfan (could only be purchased and used by specially authorised applicators who had specific chemical training)
  • the crops on which it could be used was limited
  • the number of times it could be used in one season was limited
  • use records had to be kept for two years
  • mandatory buffer zones for spraying were imposed
  • neighbours had to be notified before application
  • new withholding periods were established and additional safety directions applied.

This level of regulation was effective. An independent assessment of new research conducted by OCSEH in 2010 found that controls implemented in 2005 were effective in protecting human health.

In 2010 the APVMA also asked DSEWPAC to review new scientific studies that had emerged since 2005. In considering these studies DSEWPAC advised the APVMA that spray drift and run-off from the application of endosulfan in rural areas had the potential to adversely impact aquatic organisms. The APVMA determined that it was not feasible to impose additional controls to protect the environment. Under this circumstance the APVMA made the decision to deregister endosulfan.

Some countries made the decision to deregister endosulfan earlier than the APVMA. Generally these were countries that were unable to effectively manage the risks that endosulfan presents. Australia, on the other hand has a sophisticated set of regulatory tools and was able to maintain the benefits to the rural sector that endosulfan provides whilst at the same time protecting human health and the environment.

In these terms, the time that Australia took to deregister endosulfan is a measure of the APVMAs success as a regulator rather than a weakness.

Further reading

Read the reports and regulatory outcomes of the APVMAs consideration of endosulfan.

Media Inquiries

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Email: media@apvma.gov.au

Last updated on 30 June, 2011
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