[ASC-media] Media release: Australia's dirtiest job

Science & Arts Media jca-media at starclass.com.au
Wed Mar 31 04:19:10 EST 2004

CERAR Media Release 04/02

March 31, 2004


A call has gone out for specialists to tackle Australia's most urgent environmental challenge - the clean-up of over 100,000 polluted sites, festering across the nation's cities and regional areas.

A huge shortfall in the skills needed to make Australia hazard-free from the industrial sins of the past 150 years is holding back progress on a national clean up estimated to cost $A5 billion, says Professor Ravi Naidu of the Centre for Environmental Risk Assessment and Remediation (CERAR) at the University of South Australia.

CERAR, a new research centre at the University of South Australia, is urgently recruiting masters and PhD students in environmental risk assessment and remediation.

CERAR is the first of its kind in the southern hemisphere, a specialist scientific 'flying squad' set up to analyse any pollution problem and advise on the best way to deal with it - whether the client is a government, a company or a group of concerned citizens.

"The problem of pollution becomes worse by the day - because our cities continue to grow," Professor Naidu explains.  "As they spread, new suburbs engulf the old landfills and industrial sites of the past. These often hold a soup of discarded chemicals and waste, which has been quietly brewing away for years."

This chemical stew, plus differences in soil, water and microbial conditions that mean that no two polluted sites are the same - calling for a tailored solution in every case.

"Our most urgent task is to train young Australian researchers in environmental risk assessment and remediation - because there is an acute scarcity of skilled Australians in this field," Prof. Naidu explains.

"There is rising demand from local, state and federal government departments, from Environment Protection Authoritiess, from mining,  manufacturing and energy firms, from concerned citizens who are all confronting the problems of polluted sites.:

Six years ago a national survey found there were 80,000 polluted sites across Australia, but a recent study estimated there were 60,000 in NSW alone at more than 60,000, suggesting the national count may be far higher.  
Many sites are unsealed, slowly leaking their toxic contaminants into groundwater, streams and inhabited areas. Professor Naidu says.  

"The real issue is bioavailability.  You may think you know what's in a polluted site - but can it reach the food supply, water or people? And what efect wil it have?

The University of SA has established CERAR on its Mawson Lakes campus with a team of top scientists, and a million dollars worth of state-of-the-art mass spec, gas chromatography and microbiological assay equipment, capable of picking up pollutants in parts per trillion.

Since the Centre was launched in August 2003, the phone has rung off the hook with calls from Commonwealth and State departments, big companies and EPAs wanting its skills and advice. Recently there has been a sharp rise in overseas requests.

"The demand is big in Australia, but in Asia it's absolutely colossal," says Prof. Naidu.  "It's estimated that the Asia-Pacific has over three million sites contaminated by heavy metals alone.  That's a huge job in anyone's terms."

The Centre has already undertaken work in Korea on industrial pollution and in Bangladesh on its disastrous problem of arsenic in drinking water.

Ravi Naidu says that CERAR's postgraduates will not merely help to repair the legacy of past industrial mismanagement. More and more will be absorbed in trying to prevent the problems of the future - designing waste processes that recycle, renew and produce no hazardous substances to plague the health of future generations.

More information: 

Professor Ravi Naidu, CERAR, University of SA, 
phone 08 8302 5041, 0407 720 257 
ravi.naidu at unisa.edu.au


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