Taking up to 15 years to review acceptable exposure levels of potentially toxic chemicals and pesticides is endangering Australians’ lives, according to a health expert.

The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority has 19 active chemical reviews with some dating back to 1996.

The agency denies it is not acting fast enough but new legislation, which comes into effect on July 1, will force the authority to complete reviews within five years.

A chemical exposure expert at the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health at the Australian National University, Liz Hanna, said the federal agency was not prioritising Australians’ health with potentially harmful consequences.

The authority refused to provide information about the average length of reviews and the longest ongoing review. The Chlorpyrifos insecticide interim report was handed down in 2000, with the preliminary findings published in 2009. The agency said it expects to finalise the review in 2015.

The executive director of the APVMA pesticides program, Raj Bhula, said the laws would allow a maximum of 12 months per assessment with large reviews requiring up to five years. She said the changes to timelines were about providing transparency, and risks found during assessments were addressed immediately. ”We take suspension actions at various points before we finish a whole review of a chemical,” Dr Bhula said.