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Monday, 13 December 1993
Page: 4481

(Question No. 770)

Senator Bell asked the Minister for Health, upon notice, on 9 November 1993:

  (1) Does the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) recommend chemical exposure concentrations which are safe to those exposed to such chemicals.

  (2) Why has the Australian Allowable Exposure Concentrations of Glycol Ethers always been well above the United States (US) allowable levels.

  (3) Why is the Australian allowable level for Ethylene Glycol Mono Butyl Ether 5 times that of the US.

  (4) Is the NHMRC in possession of data on Glycol Ethers which is contrary to the data available to the US Environment Protection Agency from which it has concluded that `based on current data the agency is not able to establish a molecular size or weight above which there are no concerns for acute or chronic health effects'.

  (5) What action has the NHMRC taken on Glycol Ethers since its 94th session in 1984, where it recommended, `that because of the strong animal evidence of reproductive toxicity of these substances, together with the animal and human evidence of haematological toxicity, manufacturers and users of the ethers should ensure that the atmosphere levels be kept as low as technically feasible and that skin contact be avoided'.

  (6) Has the NHMRC performed tests or studies as to the effects of Glycol Ethers on cleaners using products containing these chemicals.

  (7) How does the NHMRC receive feedback on the health effects of and numbers of people affected by chemicals such as Glycol Ethers.

  (8) When was the last review of Glycol Ether data performed in relation to health effects and safe levels of exposure.

Senator Richardson —The answer to the honourable senator's question is as follows:

  (1) No. The NHMRC does not recommend chemical exposure concentrations which are safe to those exposed to glycol ethers or related industrial chemicals.

  (2) & (3) As neither my Department nor the NHMRC has a role in recommending Australian Allowable Exposure Concentrations, I am unable to answer the honourable senator's questions.

  (4) I do not know what data the US Environment Protection Agency possesses and so I am unable to answer the honourable senator's question.

  (5) The recommendation from the 94th session of the NHMRC in 1982 arose from a report of the former Occupational Health Committee to the former Public Health Advisory Committee. With the creation of the National Occupational Health and Safety Commission in the mid-1980s, responsibility for exposure standards for industrial chemicals passed to WORKSAFE Australia, and the NHMRC Occupational Health Committee was abolished. No further action has therefore been taken by the NHMRC.

  (6) The NHMRC does not perform tests of this type.

  (7) The NHMRC does not routinely collect information of this type. Matters of concern may be brought to the attention of the NHMRC by State health authorities and other agencies. Information on the incidence of poisonings by various classes of chemicals may be available from State Poisons Information Centres.

  (8) See (5).