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Project Outline  

In 1998 the New Zealand Foundation for Research, Science and Technology funded a three-year research programme to develop tools to help environmental managers manage contaminated sites.

Why? Because there are an estimated 7200 contaminated sites in New Zealand. Many of these sites are contaminated by heavy metals (including copper, chromium and arsenic – CCA) and petroleum hydrocarbons, (including benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene - BTEX). 

Methods for assessing risks to human health are relatively well known. However, environmental or ecological risk assessment is not as well developed, and the practical tools required by risk managers are lacking. 

In particular, little is known about the effect of contaminants on New Zealand native species.

The programme aims to help environmental risk managers to make informed human health and ecological risk assessments at contaminated sites and to derive New Zealand-specific environmental tolerance levels in soil, groundwater, and surface water for key contaminants.

The project team comprised individuals from a number of Crown Research Institutes and environmental consultancy companies in New Zealand.

Research Programme Approach 

1. Review of existing human health and ecological risk assessment models.    

This involved an extensive review of

  • over 600 reports, publications, web sites, and internet databases covering ecological risk assessment, and
  • more than 100 risk assessment, contaminant migration and dispersion computer models.

Some of the important documents, databases, and models are discussed in this web site, with links to many of the internet-based sources of information provided.

2. Consultation with end-users

A number of questions were asked:

  • What types of assessment are used for contaminated sites?
  • What tools are used?
  • Are these tools adequate?
  • What sort of information and tools would be useful?

3. Developing and testing standardised toxicity protocols

Protocols have been developed for assessing the effects of contaminants on a range of organisms inhabiting selected receiving environments, including: 

  • soil microbes  
  • indigenous (or common naturalised) soil invertebrates  
  • native plants  
  • indigenous freshwater invertebrates and 
  • freshwater fish species.

4. Testing contaminant mobility in soils

Eight New Zealand subsoils were tested for retention of heavy metals and BTEX to characterise the role of New Zealand soil-specific factors on the mobilities of soil contaminants into groundwater and surface water bodies. 

5. Integration of the model

This web site integrates the risk assessment models, contaminant mobility models, and tolerance levels for ecological receptors, by:

  • describing the different approaches to ecological risk assessment
  • evaluating the advantages and disadvantages of different approaches and
  • providing New Zealand-specific reference data.

A number of new ecological risk assessment models are being developed around the world for contaminated sites. 

This web site will contribute to the development of these models by providing New Zealand specific-information.

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Page last updated: 01 May 2007

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