South Korea Chemicals Program Targets Nanomaterials

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Courtesy of Bergeson & Campbell, P.C.

The United Nations' Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) urges each nation to make efforts to reduce hazards associated with the use of chemicals.  In response to this request, South Korea recently has taken steps to implement a process for the management of chemicals with the objective of minimizing the harmful effects that substances have on human health and the environment.  See .  The process will be ongoing until 2020.

The South Korean management program for chemicals, prepared by the Ministry of the Environment (MOE), is designed to ensure that by 2020 more than 80% of information relating to effects believed harmful associated with a chemical substance is available.  This Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction on Chemicals (REACH)-like program is also targeting a 32% reduction in use, by volume, of substances classified as a carcinogen.

Importantly for nano stakeholders, MOE states that any substance subject to current or future international control should be managed in 'a more enhanced way.'  In this regard, MOE specifically identifies persistent organic pollutants, mercury, and nanomaterials as substances of interest needing enhanced controls.

The new management process contains 15 specific actions and these actions are split into five core elements, including securing scientific information on chemicals, comprehensive management of harmful chemicals, enhancing safety management of chemicals in general, concentrated management of chemicals subject to international control, and enhancing public participation.

In the development of this new chemicals management program, MOE reportedly consulted with seven other governmental departments, namely: The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology; the Ministry of Knowledge Economy; the Ministry of Employment and Labor; the Ministry of Land; Transport and Maritime Affairs; the National Emergency Management Agency; the Rural Development Administration; and the Korea Food and Drug Administration.

The Ministries involved claim to be committed to making detailed plans and developing the process throughout the remainder of the year.  Consultation of the draft regulation is underway and is extended to other government agencies with a view to complete the legislative process by the end of this year.  The regulation must come into force two years from its date of acceptance, with a current target date of January 2013.

Ministers are currently debating the regulation that will shortly be published and followed by a public consultation period.  Historically, the Korean Government publishes a translation of its regulations in English on its website with a disclaimer that the Korean language version takes preference should any conflict arise.  As with other regulations, it is expected that an English translation will be made available for public consultation.

Once this occurs, it will be important for nano stakeholders to weigh-in and ensure nanomaterials are characterized accurately, and seek to confirm that any risks from such materials are defined appropriately.  Stakeholders must ensure that as a class of materials, nanomaterials are not subject to disproportionate or unique regulatory controls merely because they are nanomaterials.  Regrettably, the mistaken notion that nanoscale materials necessarily pose exposure concerns because they are nanoscale materials is becoming a common regulatory presumption embedded in programs targeted to minimize risks from chemical substances.  Stakeholders must prevail in developing accurate and scientifically sound administrative records to ensure nanoscale materials are managed appropriately and commercialized without undue delay.

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