New pollutants are newly discovered or of concern, posing a risk to the ecological environment or human health, and have not yet been incorporated into management or for which existing management measures are insufficient to effectively prevent and control the risk. In the Outline of the Fourteenth Five-Year Plan for the National Economic and Social Development of the People's Republic of China and the Vision for 2035, "emphasizing the management of new pollutants" has been deployed. In addition, on 24 May 2022, the General Office of the State Council issued the Action Program for the Management of New Pollutants (hereinafter referred to as the "Action Program"). The Action Program proposes that producing and using toxic and hazardous chemical substances is the primary source of new pollutants. Therefore, it is necessary to improve the system of regulations and institutions for environmental risk management of toxic and hazardous chemical substances and to enhance the capacity for new pollutant management.
1. General ideas of the Action Program
Given the characteristics of new pollutants, the Action Program proposes precise, scientific, and lawful pollution control, adopting the overall working concepts of "screening, assessment and control" and "banning, reducing and treating". This includes carrying out environmental risk screening and assessment of chemical substances, accurately screening and evaluating new pollutants that need to be controlled, scientifically formulating and legally implementing the whole process of environmental risk control measures, and prohibiting and restricting the production and use of new pollutants at the source, reducing emissions in the process, and treating them at the end of the process. Specific measures include:
Establishing an environmental information survey system for chemical substances and an environmental survey and monitoring system for new pollutants is required. Specific measures include conducting and completing, by the end of 2023, a survey of basic information on chemical substances, including the varieties, quantities, uses, production, processing, and pathways of environmental releases and hazardous characteristics of critical chemical substances in crucial industries. This information will also serve as the basis for environmental risk assessment and control of chemical substances. Combined with environmental and health hazards and environmental exposure, pollutants with higher potential risks will be screened out from tens of thousands of chemical substances and included in the prioritized environmental risk assessment scope.
New pollutants are diverse, come from a wide range of sources, and are complex to manage. The assessment and risk control of new pollutants cannot be realized with the conventional pollutant management methods of the past, which are mainly based on the attainment of emission standards. The Action Program, however, pays more attention to the assessment and risk of substances and requires the formulation of environmental risk screening and assessment programs for chemical substances and the development of environmental and health hazard testing and risk screening, focusing on chemical substances with high concern, high production (use), high environmental detection rate, and decentralized use.
As a technical guarantee, the Action Program proposes formulating and revising standards for environmental risk assessment, economic and social impact analysis, and hazard characterization test methods for chemical substances. In addition, the environmental risk management information system for chemical substances, the platform for calculating toxicology and exposure prediction of chemical substances, the hazard testing laboratory for chemical substances in compliance with Good Laboratory Practices, and the research on ecological and environmental hazard mechanisms of antibiotics, microplastics, and so on. are also some of the critical tasks proposed in the Action Program.
New pollutants involve many industries and a long industrial chain and require complete life-cycle environmental risk control. The whole-process control of key new pollutants includes source bans on production and use, process emission reductions, and end-of-pipe treatment.
a) prohibition and restriction at source
In the source control and banning segment, the Action Program focuses on new chemical substances and new product contaminants.
i. new chemical
The Action Program requires the full implementation of the registration system for environmental management of new chemical substances. It strictly implements the Measures for the Registration of New Chemical Substances for Environmental Management. It implements the primary responsibility of enterprises for environmental risk prevention and control of new chemical substances. It is establishing national and local joint supervision and enforcement mechanisms under the principle of "double randomness and openness", incorporating environmental management matters of new chemical substances into the annual environmental law enforcement work plan, and increasing penalties for enterprises that violate the law. Besides, the Action Program is required to connect the environmental management of new and existing chemical substances and improve the List of Existing Chemical Substances in China. New chemical substances with unreasonable environmental risks will be prevented from being produced or used in China at source.
ii. New contaminants in products
Incorporate the limit values and prohibited requirements for new key pollutants into the standards, certification, and labeling systems for environmental labeling products and green products. Essential control of new pollutants will be marked or prompted in the environmental labeling certification of essential consumer products. For toys, student products, and related products, attention will be paid to new key control pollutants containing content control and incorporated into mandatory national standards.
b) process emission reduction
Regarding process control to reduce the emission of new pollutants, the Action Program sets out relevant requirements for managing antibiotic drugs and pesticides.
Require the standardization of the management of the use of antibiotic drugs. Research on the environmental hazard assessment system for antimicrobial drugs should be carried out, and the environmental hazard assessment of antimicrobial drugs should be carried out for new varieties of antimicrobial drugs in the registration process of antimicrobial drugs for veterinary use.
Requirements for strengthening the management of pesticide use. Strengthen the management of pesticide registration and improve the mechanism of environmental risk monitoring and re-evaluation after pesticide registration. It also plans to complete the re-evaluation of several highly toxic and high-risk pesticide varieties by the end of 2025.
c) end governance
The Action Programme proposes to strengthen the synergistic management of multi-environmental media for new pollutants, enhance the collection, utilization, and disposal of wastes containing specific new pollutants, and carry out pilot projects to manage new pollutants. Among them, many key enterprises and industrial parks will be selected to carry out pilot projects for the treatment of new pollutants in the Yangtze River, Yellow River and other river basins and around key drinking water sources, key estuaries, key bays, key seawater aquaculture zones, and in regions such as Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei, the Yangtze River Delta, the Pearl River Delta and other regions, focusing on the petrochemicals, paints, textile printing and dyeing, rubber, pesticides, pharmaceuticals and other industries. For example, China's Pearl River Delta, Yangtze River Delta, and other regions of the perfluorinated compounds industry is developed. However, the substances have a persistent line. The pollution level of the pollutants produced can not be ignored. In response to these circumstances, the Action Program encourages localities to formulate and promote incentive policies early—pilot enterprises to reduce the generation and emission of new pollutants.
2. Safeguard Measures under of the Action Program
In order to ensure the effective implementation of the Action Plan, the Action Plan has put forward requirements for safeguard measures in four aspects, including strengthening organizational leadership, reinforcing supervision and law enforcement, broadening channels for financial inputs, and enhancing publicity and guidance.
In order to strengthen the supervision and enforcement of content, the Action Program urges enterprises to implement the primary responsibility to strictly implement the national and local new pollutant management requirements. On-site inspections of enterprises and institutions involved in the key control of new pollutants will be carried out by the law, and the supervision and enforcement of enterprises failing to implement environmental risk control measures following the regulations will be intensified. Supervise and enforce the production, processing, use, import, and export of banned or restricted toxic and hazardous chemical substances and their related products. In addition, the Action Program also proposes to study and formulate regulations on the environmental risk management of toxic and hazardous chemical substances to strengthen the legal and regulatory system.
The Action Program specifies the working target and action initiatives for the management of new pollutants, which is of great significance for solving the shortcomings of the management of new pollutants in the management system, scientific and technological support, resource allocation, and so on, safeguarding the health of the people and ecological and environmental safety, and preventing the environmental and health risks of new pollutants.