Chemicals play a key role in maintaining our lifestyles but many persist in the environment and can pose ecological and human health risks. Many of the household products and medicines that we use on a daily basis contribute to this issue, as some of these products contain chemicals that can accumulate in our environment.
These chemicals are termed “emerging contaminants" (ECs) and can be broadly defined as any synthetic or naturally occurring chemical not commonly monitored that has the potential to enter the environment and impact on human and ecosystem health. Examples include pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs), veterinary medicines, pesticides, and industrial chemicals. The challenge is to understand and manage the potential risks these chemicals pose to wildlife and humans while maximising their intended positive outcomes.
Many members of CIBR were involved in coordinating workshops and meetings with scientists, regulators, industry and Māori to discuss the science and policy around assessing the risk of ECs from a New Zealand perspective. The strategic objectives of these discussions were to build a knowledge base, research capability, policies, and management practices appropriate to evaluate, protect and manage the risk of ECs in New Zealand. It has been recognised that there is currently a lack of policy or processes to coordinate emerging contaminant research and information management in a New Zealand setting. It was agreed that a national strategy on ECs was needed with objectives to lower the social costs and risks of ECs, minimise the release of ECs and if necessary explore lower risk alternatives, adopt a precautionary approach and prevent harm through anticipatory policies.
These efforts resulted in an MBIE Endeavour five-year programme aiming to identify which ECs are predominant in New Zealand’s aquatic ecosystems and to characterise the risk they pose to our unique tāonga (treasures). We will also investigate their potential to accumulate in food and the role ECs play in the development of antimicrobial resistance. The project has a strong focus on iwi, community, policy, industry and stakeholder engagement to raise awareness, support informed discussion and the design of practical strategies to better manage the risk and impacts of ECs in New Zealand.
The multi-disciplinary team of toxicologists, chemists, microbiologists, and social scientists will work in partnership with iwi, key community stakeholders, environmental managers and policy makers in two case-study/catchment sites: the Whau River in Auckland and catchments in Southland. The aims of this new research programme are to enhance regional and national frameworks for managing the risks of ECs in New Zealand, to safeguard our people and natural environments from their harmful impacts, and ensure that our food export products continue to meet all necessary trade requirements. The research programme structure is based on a National Strategy to manage emerging contaminants in New Zealand document which will provide a framework to assist with the identification of key issues and cohesion of resources and capability. We have also formed a National Advisory Panel including colleagues from regional councils, MfE, MPI, EPA, DOC and industry to oversee the progress of the research and ensure that it remains focused on most critical issues.
For more information about this project, please contact: Louis.Tremblay@cawthron.org.nz