Monitoring of chemical imports begins
To draw more international investments into its chemical sector and also to create industrial awareness on their use, Sri Lanka has moved into regulation of hazardous chemicals and monitoring industries that use them. “I am glad to announce today that my Ministry has commenced the process of designing a Chemical Emergency First Responders’ Plan. What is important about this pioneering plan is the global compliance standard we will achieve once it is completed” said Rishad Bathiudeen, Minister of Industry and Commerce.
Minister Bathiudeen was addressing the kick-off of the Chemical Awareness Session Importers and Exporters of 52 private and state sector organisations on 6 October. More than 60 participants are taking part in these sessions at an overall cost of around Rs. 1.5 Mn, funded by the Ministry.
The Chemical Awareness Session is a Public Private Partnership effort by the Ministry of Industry & Commerce in Collaboration with the Dangerous Drugs Control Authority and the State Trading Corporation and is centred around the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) which Sri Lanka joined since 1993. The relevant national legislation is the Chemical Weapons Convention Act No. 58 of 2007.
Among the 52 participating institutions are the private sector such as Siddhalepa Exports, Nestle Lanka, MAS Research & Innovation, Unilever Sri Lanka, Cargills Agrifood, A.Baur & Co, Dipped Products, Link Natural Products, Ansell Lanka, Hemas Manufacturing, and Revlon Lanka. Among the state sector institutions are the State Pharmaceutical Corporation, Universities of Kelaniya and Ruhuna, Tea Research Institute, and NARA. In 2009, Sri Lanka imported 219,820 metric tonnes of various chemicals to the country of which 491,768 tonnes were re-shipped (this numbers exclude oil and LP Gas imports which are also classified as ‘chemicals’).
Among the imported chemicals were the extremely toxic and hazardous chemicals imported to be used as base chemicals in Sri Lankan industries. In 2010, 15461 kilograms of 43 types of such extremely toxic and hazardous chemicals were imported for Sri Lankan industries. These 43 extremely hazardous chemicals are officially called as Scheduled Chemicals but the private sector usually imports them without the Ministry of Industry and Commerce’ recommendation or clearance. Among them are saxitoxin (used for medical research), triethenolemin and ‘thyonyl chloride’, which are used for plastic and PVC manufacturing but considered to be dangerous for non-industrial, individual use.
Announcing the First Responder’s Plan, Minister Bathiudeen said: “I am glad to announce today that my Ministry has commenced the process of designing a Chemical Emergency First Responders’ Plan. What is important about this pioneering plan is the global compliance standard we will achieve once it is completed. Without this plan, no international investor will want to enter Sri Lanka’s chemical sector in future.”
Stressing that he is not intending a clampdown but only aiming at better regulation, Minister Bathiudeen said: “My Ministry wishes to stress that the purpose of this legislation and our awareness programme is not to impose any restrictions on import, export or use of any chemical but only to regulate and streamline the use of scheduled chemicals for legitimate purposes by maintaining systematic a database by the National Authority appointed for, which would facilitate greater transparency on the use of scheduled chemicals within the country.”
Revealing the importance of the initiative, Minister Bathiudeen said: “This special industry initiative comes at an important time when our industrial sector is playing an increasingly vital role in our new economic resurgence. As you may be aware, the largest contribution to July 2011 exports growth was from the industrial sector, led by a significant increase in exports of machinery and equipment. Therefore, it is time we take steps to regulate various types of chemicals to reduce social and environmental damage. My Ministry estimates that in 2010, damage valued at more than five million rupees took place due to lack of awareness on chemicals. A number of lives also were lost and when we assess compensation for these lost lives, the cost of damage is far higher.”
Speaking of the Chemical Weapons Convention, Minister Bathiudeen said: “The Chemical Weapons Convention is an international treaty which seeks to eliminate this class of weapons in a verifiable manner. It primarily addresses national programmes and indirectly the threat of chemical terrorism. The Chemical Weapons Convention is the common name for the convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction. Sri Lanka has been a signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) since 1993 and relevant national legislation has been enforced on 15 August 2008 as Chemical Weapons Convention Act No. 58 of 2007. Under the Act, it is an offence to manufacture use or trade certain toxic chemicals listed in the convention without the approval of the National Authority established for implementing the convention in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka and many countries throughout the world have companies and businesses involving toxic chemicals in productions in industrial, agricultural, research, medical, pharmaceutical and other peaceful purposes. Due to the possibility of such chemicals to make chemical weapons and also use them for narcotics, it is essential to monitor the activities of the industries dealing in such chemicals. The convention will require Sri Lanka to make annual declarations about the import and use of certain chemicals.”
“There is no request for clearance of these chemical imports. There is no awareness of how these chemicals are distributed or stored” said Dr. Rohan P. Perera, Director, National Authority for the Implementation of Chemical Weapons Convention under the Ministry of Industry & Commerce. “This awareness programme will show the steps needed to import, use and distribution of these chemicals” Dr. Perera said. “These chemicals have many industrial applications. The main objective is to use them for industries but they should not fall into wrong hands such as chemical weapons or narcotics production. By this initiative, the Ministry of Industry & Commerce becomes aware of who imports what, how much is used, and even makes sure that the imported chemicals end up with the intended end users” Dr. Perera said.