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Associate Professor Albert Juhasz

We unearthed the world's most accurate way to gauge exposure to soil contamination

After land has been used for mining, industry, agriculture and waste management, there’s the hidden prospect that the soil may contain substances dangerous to humans. But our health doesn’t bear the only cost. Every year in Australia, it’s estimated we spend over $2 billion to assess and remediate such land.

The problem has been that – for safety – every site was assumed 100 per cent likely to cause harm, requiring remediation to the fullest extent. And that’s simply because there has not been a reliable way to measure the contamination risk to humans through soil contact, also known as contaminant bioavailability.

UniSA’s accurate and reliable assessment tools have given environmental agencies better solutions for managing and/or remediating soils without compromising human health and safety.

But that’s all changed thanks to an interdisciplinary team of UniSA researchers. By working with industry in the laboratory and in the field, the team has developed a breakthrough technique that has modified soil assessment policies used globally.

For the first time, the team has created reliable, highly accurate assessment tools that measure contaminant concentrations and predict when levels could harm humans. This has provided environmental agencies with a far better gauge for managing and remediating soil, and has delivered cost savings of $749 million worldwide.

Closer to home, UniSA’s work has directly informed SA Health’s strategy to reduce the lead levels in Port Pirie residents’ blood: a legacy of the emissions from the town’s smelter, which has operated continuously since 1889. A related project supported by the Women’s and Children’s Hospital is examining lead contamination in the airborne dust. Meanwhile, UniSA is making similar investigations into the effects of historic emissions from Broken Hill’s lead mines.

Exposure Assessment Research Leader, Associate Professor Albert Juhasz, says: ‘Providing services to these communities is the culmination of years of research. The opportunity to benefit communities like Port Pirie and Broken Hill is a major driver and reward for me.’