Find out more about the great research being carried out at the Centre for Environmental Risk Assessment and Remediation.
Our research applied
Living with contaminants
We all know the dangers of arsenic and mercury. But are the dangers of brominated flame retardants or polychlorinated biphenyls known or recognised? Every day people are exposed to a range of contaminants in the workplace and their homes and most of the time don’t know that they are. How toxic are these contaminants? What is the impact of the contaminant in the environment? And how are we exposed to the contaminants?
CERAR scientists are trying to answer the difficult questions related to contaminants, both known and unknown. CERAR scientists undertake research that incorporates soil-planthuman transfer studies to assess the possible human exposure pathways for these contaminants. Understanding the potential impacts on the environment of many emerging contaminants is one of the core aspects of CERAR research. Utilising the latest analytical technologies, CERAR researchers investigate the impact and behaviour of contaminants from the micro through to the macro scales.
Bioremediation is gaining increased acceptance by the public as a green and alternate remediation technology to the costly conventional technologies such as ‘dig and dump’ or ‘pump and treat’. However the challenges remain associated with bioremediation including understanding of complex microbial processes responsible for successful bioremediation, particularly for halogenated pollutants.
CERAR is at the forefront of research unravelling several challenges related to increasing the understanding of complex microbial processes that enable the success of bioremediation technology for persistent organic pollutants. CERAR has successfully demonstrated natural attenuation based on intrinsic microbial activity as a preferred remediation technology for several hydrocarbon impacted soils and groundwater. CERAR is also involved in developing cost effective remediation technologies for halogenated solvents/persistent organic pollutant contaminated sites.
Waste to resource
According to the OECD (2002), Australia is one of the highest producers of waste in the world, generating waste at a rate of over 2kg per person per day, the majority of which ends up in landfill. The management of municipal and industrial wastes has long been recognised as a key issue in environmental sustainability.
CERAR focuses on tackling three needs of modern society in this area, and their consequent pressure on the environment:
- The need for environmentally sound and safe management, reuse and disposal of wastes;
- An increasing need for recycling nutrients in agriculture;
- The necessity to reduce the impact of soil degradation and contamination processes.
The overall aim of this research is to explore, assess and test innovative approaches for the characterisation, reutilisation and management of solid wastes. This aim fits within the guiding principles of waste management strategies in Australia which are represented by the waste minimisation hierarchy – reduce, re-use and recycle.
The focus of the research is on both municipal and industrial wastes that have the potential to be safely utilised either in agriculture or for the amelioration of degraded land, therefore transforming wastes into resources. Ultimately this research is expected to reduce the impact of waste in the environment and to contribute to the ever increasing need of materials and nutrients of modern society.
Natural resources for a cleaner environment
Extensive attention is being paid to the management of environmental pollution and its control due to hazardous materials, such as organics, heavy metals and metalloids. Decontamination of contaminants in the soil and water around industrial plants has been a challenge for a long time. At CERAR, scientists and engineers undertake research on novel modifications of natural clay-sized materials with highly efficient and cost‑effective technologies for remediation of environmental contaminants in soil, water and air.
Natural materials such as clays are a relatively inexpensive resource with a large surface area, strong ion exchange properties and proven long term stability in the environment and these properties make these materials attractive candidates for remediation purposes.
CERAR researchers are targeting industry soil and waste water contamination issues through fundamental and applied research. Research focuses on the modification of clay-sized alumino-silicates with surfactants, and grafting of nano catalysts on natural materials and their use for immobilising and finally degrading a series of inorganic/ organic contaminants.
Human Health Risk Assessment
Human Health Exposure Assessment is a critical component of both site assessment and the validation of remediation site efficacy. To address this critical component CERAR is undertaking both fundamental and applied research to determine exposure to organic and in-organic contaminants. The major exposure pathway for these contaminants is via incidental soil and dust ingestion with young children being the most sensitive receptor, due to their behaviour and hand to mouth activities. Key research areas include:
the development of simple, rapid, and inexpensive assays for predicting contaminant uptake
validation of chemical assays against bio-availability gold standards, and
testing soil amendments that minimise contaminant bio-availability.
From nano to field scale
Nanotechnology forms an integral part of CERAR’s research programs. Nano structural materials have opened up new avenues in various scientific fields and provide novel opportunities in environmental science. Nanotechnology has potential applications in many sectors of the world economy, including transportation, consumer products, health care, energy and agriculture.
CERAR involvement in nanotechnology covers a wide range of activities including development of novel nano materials for remediation of contaminants including the risk assessment in the environment.
The current paucity of information in regard to the fate and behaviour of manufactured nanomaterials in the environment is not only a threat to environmental health but also to the development of the nanotechnology sector. In fact, it is critical that, in this initial phase of development of nanotechnologies, the public debate of these new technologies is based on a scientific understanding of the environmental fate of these new products and not on simple perception of potential risks.
In addition, nanotechnology presents new opportunities to improve how contaminants in the environment are measured, monitored, managed and minimised.
Nanotechnology is prospective in creating new and better products which can be scaled up for mass production. Having a specialty in several ongoing nanotechnology activities, CERAR’s key research areas and applications include:
- colloids and sols
- films and coatings
- nanoporous materials
- inorganicorganic hybrids or nanocomposites and
- nanomaterials (molecular and bulk) characterisation techniques.
Areas of current nanomaterial applications being studied include:
- environmental remediation and wastewater treatment;
- chemical and biological sensors for environmental applications;
- immobilisation and/or degradation of inorganic and organic contaminants using nanocatalysts grafted onto natural materials.