[ASC-media] Media release: fast track to the clean society

JCA Media jca.media at starclass.com.au
Wed Sep 13 00:38:37 CEST 2006

CRC for Contamination Assessment and Remediation of the Environment

Media Release 06/09

September 13, 2005


The Australian public should have a greater say about the toxic contamination that affects the nation's cities and most people - and how to deal with it.

"As we redevelop our cities, contamination from past activities is often found in the soil and water under our homes and offices," explains Professor Rob Fowler, who heads the Cooperative Research Centre for Contamination Assessment and Remediation of the Environment (CRC CARE) research programme into social, legal, and policy issues. 

"People are frequently horrified to learn that they are living on a contaminated site, and that this may affect their health, safety and property values. Yet sometimes the party who caused the pollution may no longer exist.

"The normal rule is that the polluter pays for the clean-up.  But when the pollution occurred half a century ago and no existing polluter can be identified, then current residents may become the innocent victims of a problem for which there is no-one clearly responsible to clean-up."

"There is growing consensus among environmental regulators, developers, contamination consultants and industry that Australia needs a more effective way of dealing with pollution problems from the past, particularly one that engages the affected residents, Prof. Fowler says.

"Today's solutions to contaminated sites are technically much more sophisticated, and there is a need to explain the options to the affected public and to hold a sensible dialogue about the best way forward".

"Australia needs to devise a better way of communicating with the public, especially those affected by these problems, and engaging them in finding the answer - and that is where CRC CARE comes into the picture."

Prof Fowler says his programme is conducting a national and global search for the best ideas on how to engage the public in helping overcome contamination problems, and the best legal frameworks for dealing with them.

"From this research we hope to establish a world best-practice model for dealing with a problem that affects every developed society on earth," he says. "One of the most difficult questions is: if you suspect a site is contaminated, do you publicise the fact?  It may cause panic and will certainly affect the value of the site"

"Regulators are grappling with the question of whether Australia should have public registers of contaminated, or suspected sites - in fairness to those who intend to live or work there and in the interest of public health and safety. There is no uniform approach across the States" he says.

"On the other hand we now have scientific ways to clean up contaminated sites without digging up the soil and carting it away. And we know that property values on a cleaned site undergo a sharp increase, as was the case at Sydney's Homebush Bay. So there are sound reasons to encourage clean-up, provided the public can understand and accept these new approaches

Another unsolved issue is who pays for the clean-up - the original polluter; the developer (who may have been unaware of the contamination); the residents, whose land values stand to benefit from it; or the government, if no-one else can do so ?  "Does Australia need a fund to help pay for clean-up, where the original polluter no longer exists or is unable to afford the cost of clean-up?" he asks.

These are among the questions which CRC CARE research programme into legal, social and economic aspects of contamination seeks to answer.

"They are real problems, encountered by communities across Australia virtually every day - and so far there is no ideal solution.

"Our aim is to recommend approaches that are both workable and acceptable to the Australian public, who deserve to be a part of any discussion involving their health, safety and economic security."

More information:
Professor Rob Fowler, CRC CARE & University of SA, ph 08 8302 2448 or 0410 498 507.  email: rob.fowler at unisa.edu.au
Professor Ravi Naidu, CEO, CRC CARE, ph 08 8302 5041 or 0407 720 257
Kim Sinclair, CRC CARE communication, ph 08 8302 3933 or 0416 095 324
Kim.sinclair at crccare.com



CRC CARE is an Australian partnership of scientific, industry and government organisations set up to devise new ways of dealing with and preventing contamination of soil, water and air. 

Its goals include:
* Cleaner, safer food supplies, water  and living conditions leading to a reduced toll of disease due to toxic contamination of our food, water, air and living conditions
* Benefits of up to $1.8 billion per year from direct savings in remediation and improved values or remediated land
* A cleaner natural environment for Australia and its neighbours.

CRC CARE is part of the Australian Government's Cooperative Research Centres Program.

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