Minister Edna Molewa delivers keynote address at the Chemicals Management and Land Remediation Summit

06 October 2015


The Minister of Environmental Affairs, Mrs Edna Molewa, delivered the keynote address at the Chemicals Management and Land Remediation Summit, today, 6 October in Pretoria. The three-day conference commenced on 5 October and will end on 7 October.

The 2015 Chemicals Management and Land Remediation Summit aims to facilitate a national dialogue with regards to the management of chemicals and remediation of contaminated land to ensure sustainable management of environmental resources. It aims to further assist industries in their responsibilities regarding chemicals management and contamination of land by sharing information, forming partnerships, drafting and enforcing relevant legislation to manage industry.

The Minister highlighted that sustainable consumption and production patterns is a defining feature of theSustainable Development Goals and the Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s) that preceded them, but that it is also a principle advanced by the South African Constitution and National Development Plan (NDP).

The Minister acknowledged that chemicals are inextricably linked to the development and evolution of modern societies and economies. She said, however “at the same time, we also all know that the negative consequences of unsound chemicals management on the environment are vast and far-reaching.”

This includes land contamination and degradation, crop contamination, and poisons reaching the water table because of badly managed chemicals supply chains and waste streams. There is also the cost to human health. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that chemical-induced disease contributes up to 25% of the Global Burden of Disease.”

This summit is taking place at a time when chemicals production and consumption is increasing around the world. The UN estimates that by 2020, 31% of global chemicals on the market will have been produced in developing countries. Developing countries also account for 33% of global chemical consumption.

South Africa's chemicals sector is the largest in Africa, and is complex and diverse, ranging from fuel and plastics fabrication to pharmaceuticals. The sector contributes some 2.7% to Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and is a key component of the country's industrial base.

The complex nature of chemicals management has resulted in legislation that distinguishes between three main types of chemicals:  industrial and consumer chemicals, agrochemicals and pharmaceuticals. The responsibility of their management is spread across a number of government departments. South Africa is a party to various Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) on chemicals management and safety.

The Minister however said there are certain challenges that remain, such as policy and legislative gaps that need to be addressed. The MEA’s have not yet been domesticated. Secondly, the location of chemicals across several government departments has resulted in fragmentation. Overlapping mandates are another such gap.

Another problem South Africa is faced with is that there is currently no legal authority ensuring that rigorous risk assessment of industrial chemicals is done as a prerequisite to chemicals registration before they are introduced into the South African market.

For example, in reviewing chemicals imported through the Prior Informed Procedure (PIC) of the Rotterdam Convention over the past 4 years, our officials have discovered that South Africa is effectively being used as a dumping site for hazardous chemicals banned in the very same countries that manufacture and export them, due to serious environmental and human health research proven risks!

The Minister stressed that: “The absence of a regulatory tool for managing the environmental impacts of chemicals throughout their life cycle needs urgent addressing: otherwise we will find ourselves needing to remediate more and more contaminated land in the not too distant future.”

The country’s approach to the remediation of contaminated land is based on the polluter pays principle.

The Minister stated: “We as government recently promulgated Part 8 of the Waste Act and the Norms and Standards for Remediation of Contaminated Land and Soil Quality. We have already received a total of 579 notifications for investigation areas - mostly from petroleum industries.”

She said that: “It is extremely encouraging to see that these industries are leading in terms of notifying my department of investigation areas, compilation of Site Assessment Reports and actual remediation of contaminated sites.”

On asbestos remediation, the Minister said that our actions on the ground are slowly but surely resulting in progress.

The asbestos-contaminated Khiba School in the Northern Cape has been closed – with the learners moved to the nearby Gamopedi School.   The Minister said that working with the Departments of Basic Education and Public Works we paved Gamopedi School and constructed mobile classrooms to accommodate the additional learners. A new site for the Khiba School is being identified. Also in Limpopo province, the construction of asbestos free Traditional (Tribal) Council offices in Mafefe is underway.

The Minister emphasised that during this summit delegates will be looking at the ways in which they, as industry role-players, can harness existing legal and policy instruments at national, regional and global level to better position South Africa to reap the benefits of the global growth in the chemicals sector. At the same time they will be looking at new ways to ensure that chemicals are managed in ways that minimize adverse impacts on the environment and human health.

The Minister called on the chemicals sector to form new, and strengthen existing, partnerships with government as well as with SMME’s, to enable the industry to grow in a sustainable manner.

For further information and background on this issue, refer to the Minister’s speech:

>> Minister Edna Molewa's keynote address at the Chemicals and Land Remediation Summit

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