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Metals in China: protecting the environment

A new international collaborative research project that seeks to protect the environment from metal contaminants will be launched next Monday (18 September) in Beijing, China.

The project will be launched at the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry Asia/Pacific Conference. It will bring together scientists from CSIRO, the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS), and is sponsored by Rio Tinto, the International Copper Association and the Nickel Producers Environmental Research Association.

Co-Director of the CSIRO Centre for Environmental Contaminants Research, Professor Mike McLaughlin, says the project aims to develop robust scientific guidelines for safe levels of copper and nickel in Chinese soils.

“South-East Asia is booming. Amid rapid industrialisation and expansion of urban populations, we need to ensure the environment is protected,” Professor McLaughlin says.

“Use of metals is increasing. Consider the manufacturing and industrial expansion currently underway in Asia, where the pace of development has outstripped the advancement of relevant policies and regulatory guidelines.

“We need sound local data that builds on recent scientific advances in the understanding of metal behaviour and toxicity in soils.”

In the first instance, a series of field and laboratory experiments will be established for a range of soils and environments in China, to examine the behaviour and toxicity of copper and nickel in Chinese soils.

This data will be combined with data already collected in European Union and Australian research programs, and CSIRO data from other South East Asian countries, to develop models that explain toxicity across a wide range of environments.

Data from previous projects conducted by CSIRO in Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam has suggested that soils in the region have generally low background metal concentrations, but are very sensitive to metal additions as indicated by effects on plant growth and soil microbial functions,” Professor McLaughlin says.

The cooperation of Australian and Chinese governments and the global metals industries reflects a shared desire to provide science-based metals guidelines in China. The collaboration also recognises the importance of joining local knowledge with global experience in such complex scientific undertakings.

The ongoing scientific research is being endorsed by China's State Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) for guidance on revising metals standards in Chinese soils.

Research in China is being led by Professors Yibing Ma (CAAS) and Yongguan Zhu (CAS) in collaboration with CSIRO.

Clare Peddie | EurekAlert!
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