Siobhan Quayle

Siobhan Quayle, Group General Manager, Regulatory Systems and Operations standing in the Begonia House, Wellington Botanic Gardens

Siobhan Quayle, Group General Manager, Regulatory Systems and Operations standing in the Begonia House, Wellington Botanic Gardens

Every day, our Operations teams support the EPA and our decision-making committees to:

  • assess applications to import or manufacture hazardous substances, and set the rules around their use
  • evaluate and manage the risks of introducing new organisms
  • consider and decide applications for marine consents and other permitted activities (including discharge and dumping) within the EEZ
  • issue import or export permits for hazardous waste and ozone-depleting substances
  • administer New Zealand’s ETS and the Register
  • support boards of inquiry and special tribunals hearing applications on nationally significant proposals and water conservation orders.

"Our challenge is always to balance the many considerations that need to be taken into account, while enhancing the wellbeing of present and future generations. Our strategic goal, delivering the right decisions is core to the work of the Operations arm of the EPA."

Hazardous substances and new organisms

Our role is to regulate the use of hazardous substances and new organisms to ensure they are safe to be used in New Zealand. Hazardous substances are any chemical, or mixture of chemicals, that meets hazardous classification criteria. All hazardous substances and new organisms must be approved before they can be imported, manufactured, or used in New Zealand.

In 2019/20 we:

  • decided 123 applications to import or manufacture hazardous substances in New Zealand
  • decided 623 applications for import certificates for explosives and for graphic materials
  • decided five applications for transhipments of hazardous substances
  • decided 34 applications and statutory determinations to import or release new organisms
  • decided grounds for the reassessment of 18 substances in the 2019/20 Chemical Review
  • decided seven grounds for reassessment for a substance or organism, with four reassessments completed.

Creating a modern chemical regime

This year, we have made considerable progress with our multi-year foundation programme to modernise New Zealand’s chemical regime. It is on track for full implementation in 2021. The work involves updating our existing hazardous substances classification system, and replacing New Zealand’s hazardous substances database (accessed via our website). The database is the sole repository for hazardous substances approved under the HSNO Act.

The incoming classification system, known as the Globally Harmonised System Version 7 (GHS 7), is an internationally agreed way of classifying chemicals based on their human and environmental hazards. Using GHS 7 will increase the effectiveness of chemical management in New Zealand: it will ensure more internationally aligned information for users of hazardous substances, and will help simplify processes for importers and manufacturers.

To support our adoption of GHS 7, we have continued with preparations to upgrade our current hazardous substances database to the International Uniform Chemical Information Database (IUCLID). Our aim is to deliver a modern, fit-for-purpose system that will become the single source of truth for all information on our website regarding hazardous substances, their approval status, classification, and controls. Such information is widely used by our staff and customers, including those overseas.

Transferring to GHS 7 has required a significant effort by our team:

  • 9,300 hazardous substances approvals reviewed, audited, and transferred to proposed GHS 7 classifications
  • 6,500 hazardous substance approvals set to be revoked (because they are covered by a Group Standard)
  • 3,300 individual hazardous substance approvals that the new GHS 7 system will cover
  • 71 submissions received in response to our October 2019 consultation to move to the GHS 7
  • 208 Group Standards updated to align to GHS 7 references.

Mapping our chemical footprint

We have continued to develop a chemical map’, a system for visualising chemical information that will provide insight for strategic decision makers at the EPA and elsewhere. Using national and international data sources, we have advanced an initial concept that will be internationally peer reviewed before we look to the next phase of development. This will involve expanding on the functionality and application of the chemical map. Modernising our approach to chemical management will not only improve the data and evidence we hold, but is also part of boosting the transparency of what we do at the EPA. In turn, the work programme helps our strengthened approach to compliance, monitoring, and enforcement.

Our work with new organisms

New Zealand’s economy relies on new organisms being allowed into the country to support research and the future potential for innovation. These can include bacteria, viruses, cell lines, human cells (but not human beings), sperm, oocytes (cells from which an egg or ovum develops), embryos, seeds, plants, fish, and animals. Find out more about what defines a new organism on our website.

New organisms also include biological control agents, for example insects or fungus, which are used to control weeds and insects. Biocontrol contributes to sustainable pest control that reduces the need for pesticide use.

Our role is to assess and manage the risks of importing new organisms. In doing so, we consider the environment, the health and safety of people, Māori culture and traditions, and the market economy.

Supporting better health outcomes

In September 2019, we approved the release of genetically modified chimeric antigen receptor live T-cells for a clinical trial at Wellington Hospital, for patients with B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The T-cells (called WZTL-002 cells) had previously been approved to use only in a secure location.

There are around 900 new cases of non-Hodgkin lymphoma in New Zealand each year, and WZTL-002 cells are designed to specifically recognise and kill the lymphoma cells. The approval is limited to use of the cells in the trial, and expires once the trial is completed. Find out more about the decision process for this application on the EPA website, in the HSNO application register, reference APP203750.

Supporting climate change targets

We manage the administration of the ETS, the Government’s primary method for achieving its long-term commitment to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.

We ensure compliance with the scheme and provide reports and market information. We also operate the Emissions Trading Register, where transactions take place.

Emissions trading is a market-based approach to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. The ETS puts a price on emissions, by charging certain sectors of the economy for the greenhouse gases they emit. Individual businesses within those sectors must calculate their emissions annually by submitting an emissions return to us.

During 2019/20:

  • 133m+ emissions units were transferred between private accounts in the Register
  • 40m+ emissions units were surrendered by participants to meet ETS obligations
  • 8m+ of those were surrendered on behalf of participants who chose to use the fixed-price option to meet some or all of their ETS obligations
  • 12m+ emissions units were transferred for removal activities, and 8,421,940 units were allocated to account holders.

Managing the Emissions Trading Scheme during the COVID-19 lockdown

The Government’s move to Alert Level 4 during the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020 coincided with the end of the ETS mandatory reporting and surrender period. It is the time when more than 200 participants are required to report their annual emissions to us. Our ETS and Information Technology teams began working before lockdown to ensure we would be able to support our customers.

When lockdown was initiated on 25 March 2020 and we began working from home, we continued to contact participants to ensure they were able to meet their statutory reporting requirements. During this time, we also supported customers to manage over 550 individual tasks within the Register, and responded to more than 900 emails.

There were only six cases where reporting deadlines by participants were missed. We have continued working with participants to ensure they have been able to complete and meet their obligations.

Our work in the Exclusive Economic Zone

We manage the effects of particular marine activities in our offshore waters.

The EEZ and the continental shelf is a mapped area of ocean that starts 12 nautical miles out from New Zealand’s coast. It is one of the largest EEZs in the world, 20 times the size of our land mass.

We decide applications and regulate certain activities such as oil and gas exploration and production, seabed mining, and dumping.

In 2019/20, we delivered:

  • one decision to approve a notified marine discharge
  • two decisions to approve non-notified marine consents for exploration drilling
  • four decisions to approve non-notified marine discharges
  • one decision to approve a non-notified marine dumping consent
  • one approval of a new emergency spill response plan
  • six approvals of updates to emergency spill response plans
  • two rulings related to oil and gas production
  • one change of conditions to a marine discharge consent.