Waste Management In Action

Re-assessing remediation

Professor Ravi Naidu estimates that only 10 per cent of the 200,000 contaminated sites in Australia have been remediated.

CRC CARE continues to develop technologies to reduce soil contamination. CEO Professor Ravi Naidu talks about the current issues affecting soil remediation.

As an independent organisation, CRC CARE (formerly the Cooperative Research Centre for Contamination Assessment and Remediation of the Environment) has helped to establish the standard for contamination clean-up.

Since its launch in 2005, as part of the Federal Government’s Cooperative Research Centres (CRC) Program, CRC CARE’s collaboration with industry, science and the community has resulted in significant outcomes for soil remediation. After finishing its term under the CRC Program in 2021, CRC CARE has secured commitments from industry and government partners to continue for another 10 years.

Professor Ravi Naidu, the founding Managing Director and CEO of CRC CARE, has used his 30 years’ experience in contamination science to spearhead several major projects.

“As CEO I must think about the strategy and operation of CRC CARE as a whole, [but] I also work as a Chief Scientist, which means I need to stay on top of research and ensure that it can provide results in the field,” Ravi says. “CRC CARE works to identify and quantify contaminants. From there we go that extra step to develop cost-effective remediation technologies and approaches.”

Ravi maintains that collaboration is key to achieving desired outcomes. “CRC CARE is unique in bringing together all stakeholders,” he says, “from the owners of contaminated sites to the companies that clean them up, and from industry to government environmental regulators, as well as the research community.

“CRC CARE’s success in soil remediation goes hand in hand with our endurance – we have regularly been one of the first, if not the first, organisations to work on a particular approach or contaminant. For example, we collaborated with the Department of Defence on PFAS long before it became the widely recognised issue that it is today.

“It’s important to identify where other parties may already be doing research, bring them together with CRC CARE and then extend the data and associated body of knowledge.”

CRC CARE CEO Professor Ravi Naidu.
CRC CARE CEO Professor Ravi Naidu.

Ravi says soil remediation has proven to be especially important in mitigating potential harm to both flora and fauna from contaminants, with humans particularly vulnerable.

“If soil is contaminated, then people may inhale it directly in the form of dust,” he says. “They may ingest contaminants indirectly via food grown in contaminated soil.”

Furthermore, contaminants present in soil can leach into groundwater and be transported to other areas, increasing the chance of exposure for people and the environment.

“Groundwater is such a crucial element of almost all ecosystems, and humans depend on it for our very way of life. We have no choice but to protect it by all means possible.”

Ravi says that nullifying contaminated soils can also provide commercial benefits for the industrial and agricultural sectors.

“From a state perspective, levies have gone up, which has resulted in a reduced volume of waste at landfill sites. This is where remediation in the urban environment is a key asset, as it allows value to be created out of what would otherwise have been non-productive land,” he says.

CRC CARE specialises in bespoke solutions for soil remediation. One such solution is its matCARE service.

A modified natural clay, matCARE has been developed to irreversibly trap PFAS – per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances found in fire-fighting foams. Once it enters an ecosystem, PFAS stays around for many years and can accumulate in animal and human bodies if they are exposed.

matCARE attaches itself to the chemical in a way that renders it harmless to flora and fauna. It offers an alternative to conventional approaches such as thermal treatment and soil washing, which can be expensive and can diminish soil health – which, says Ravi, must be maintained or improved as an essential aspect of soil remediation.

Ravi says one of the challenges within Australia is the difference in soil types.

“The difference between regions can be vast. The impacts of contaminants on sensitive microbes can differ substantially between two areas. Remediation approaches that work well in one area may not be effective
in another.”

He stresses that the majority of contaminants are yet to have suitable treatments and says there is a need for support from government and industry for research to develop solutions.

“Currently, it is estimated that only 10 per cent of the 200,000 contaminated sites that we have in Australia have been remediated in the last 50 years,” he says.

He says it will be important to develop approaches and technologies that draw on large datasets and new tools such as artificial intelligence and machine learning.

For more information, visit: www.crccare.com

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