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Demand for accurate chemical measurement grows

Media Release

June 19 2008

Demand for accurate chemical measurement grows

There is growing concern that New Zealand is falling behind the world standards required for reliable and traceable chemical measurement because it lacks key knowledge and capability.

The concern was highlighted by delegates at a recent international metrology conference held in New Zealand to discuss the impact of globalisation on New Zealand measurement standards requirements.

Chemical measurement forms the basis for many economic, environmental, health and trade decisions and the Director of the Measurement Standards Laboratory of New Zealand* (part of Industrial Research Limited), Keith Jones says a dominant issue at the conference was the effectiveness of New Zealand’s chemical measurement capabilities in that context.

“Globally, market access is more and more dependent on goods complying with increasingly stringent technical criteria and there has been an explosion of effort internationally in the accuracy, consistency and statistical understanding of measurement results relating to chemistry,” he says.

“Technological advances mean particles in products which could not previously be detected can now be measured, resulting in a change in the consensus on what is an acceptable level of additives and the imposition of stricter regulations in this area.”

“In New Zealand, products produced from locally-sourced raw materials will contain substances that they have absorbed from the unique local environment. We need to build up our knowledge of those substances and their acceptable levels so that we have a reference point for the future,” Mr Jones says.

He cites the discovery earlier this year of honey containing the tutin toxin from native tutu bushes as a good example of the need for accurate chemical analysis in New Zealand.

“A better understanding of the problem and using chemistry measurement standards to monitor such products would minimise the risk of our overseas consumers losing confidence in our exports and prevent unnecessary dumping through fear rather than scientific evidence.

Keith Jones says there has been a concerted effort to consolidate New Zealand’s expertise in chemical measurement. The Virtual Institute of Metrology in Chemistry (VIMC) – of which MSL is a member – is a web-based organisation that pools resources and information on the subject. He says, however, expertise needed to be widened to demonstrate international comparability of measurement results through processes such as traceability and improved standards.

“Establishing a core capability would also enable New Zealand to collaborate with other international metrology institutes but we need to have new knowledge to offer them for that to happen,” he says.

The call for greater global consistency of chemical measurement dates back to the mid-1990s when major inconsistencies were revealed in the results of laboratories testing lead content in wine. Since then, there has been an international effort to ensure laboratories, wherever they are situated around the world, achieve consistent and comparable measurement results.


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