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Local pollution a focus for world scientists

Local pollution a focus for world scientists

The impact of widespread, low level pollution in New Zealand will be a key subject at a major international conference beginning in Christchurch on Sunday.

The SETAC Asia-Pacific / ASE conference 2003 will bring together hundreds of scientists from 30 countries. The theme is 'Solutions to Pollution', with discussions on research and clean-up options for different types of contamination. Landcare Research and the National Institute for Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) are the major conference sponsors.

Landcare Research scientist Dr Louis Tremblay is the conference chair. "New Zealand must learn to grapple with the long-term implications of having low levels of contaminants from a mixture of sources, kind of like a 'pollution soup'," Dr Tremblay says. " Chemicals that mimic estrogen are just one ingredient in this mixture."

NIWA scientist Dr Chris Hickey is the president of the Asia-Pacific branch of SETAC. "Several speeches discuss how pollution in heavily populated parts of the world has flow-on effects to more remote countries like New Zealand and Australia, and even polar regions.

"For example, agricultural chemicals used in the tropics can be detected in polar regions, and pristine areas like Fiordland and the Nelson Lakes where these chemicals have never been used." Among the keynote speeches:

'Ecotoxicology in polar environments * environmental risk and management', Peter Chapman, EVS Environment Consultants (Canada). Sources of contaminants in Arctic and Antarctic environments include deposition from the atmosphere, and human occupation. More information on the degree and repercussions of contamination is critically needed.

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'Xenoestrogens: the ultimate biochemical feminists', Ian Shaw, Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR). Chemicals mimicking the effects of the female hormone estrogen can be released into environments from some agricultural spray residues, foods and packaging (for example, some plastic coatings in cans). These chemicals can cause sexual organ dysfunctions (e.g. undescended testes, precocious female puberty). Do we have the knowledge to decide if a new chemical will be estrogenic before it is commercially produced?

'Perspectives on managing chemicals in the 21st century' Don MacKay, Trent University (Canada). The last 40 years have seen significant advances in our understanding of the sources, fate and effects of chemicals in our environment. The emphasis has been on improving monitoring, and identifying critical contaminants, and implementing regulations to provide 'solutions to pollution'. But should we now be identifying potential problems before they start?

The conference will include more than 300 presentations.

"SETAC" Asia / Pacific * ASE 2003 * Solutions to Pollution" Christchurch Convention Centre September 28 * October 1.

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