Over 1000 experts needed

Friday, 18 August, 2006

Australia needs to train over 1000 new experts in environmental remediation if it is to become an international leader in the "clean society', according to Professor Ravi Naidu, managing director of the Cooperative Research Centre for Contamination Assessment and Remediation of the Environment (CRC CARE).

A severe shortage of skills in risk assessment, remediation and bio-remediation threatens to hamper the emergence of a billion dollar industry in cleaning up past contaminated sites and preventing future industrial contamination.

Naidu claims technology is already under development, which could make Australian industry the world's cleanest.

"But we are desperately short of the people who will deliver this new knowledge to industry and help them to implement it. At present, Australia has to import these skills from the UK and elsewhere."

Environmental risk assessment and remediation is a new industrial field, using the latest advances in physics, biology and chemistry to lock up, break down or make safe the toxic by-products of past industrial activity.

"Besides cleaning up past contamination, the technologies we are working on will turn low-value land into prime urban real estate, help reduce the level of environmental ill-health in the community and deliver affordable, clean industrial processes that recycle waste," Naidu said.

At present, the world biotech market is booming and Australians are being lured overseas with promises of large salaries and research budgets. To address the problem, CRC CARE plans to train a total of 75 researchers to PhD level over the next six years and assist up to 500 technical staff to acquire skills bridging industry and research.

"However, we acknowledge that this is only a part of what Australia needs if this new clean-up industry is to achieve its full potential. There is a need for urgent focus by governments and industry on how we train more experts in risk assessment and remediation."

Naidu said that Asia alone is estimated to harbour 3 million contaminated sites and as industrialising economies grow wealthier one of their first priorities is to try to eliminate the toxins that threaten the health of their citizens.

"Our partners in China, South Korea and elsewhere are already urging us to provide them with the knowledge, skills and services to make safe their old industrial sites. This is an opportunity Australia can no more afford to ignore than it can afford to ignore the Asian demand for energy."

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