Professor Ravi Naidu deals in staggering numbers: five trillion pieces of plastic debris in the ocean; seven million premature deaths linked to air pollution; three new potential toxins a day from nearly 150,000 registered chemicals.
The growing list of everyday dangers in our air, water, food and goods tempts you to bury your head in the ground – until you realise that almost one-fifth of China’s soil is contaminated and, more worryingly, less than 1% of the world’s five million potentially contaminated sites have been properly assessed or remediated.
As CEO and managing director of CRC CARE (Contamination Assessment and Remediation of the Environment) Naidu is confronting all this head-on. In Australia, he’s helping communities living around some of the country’s 55,000 abandoned mines; working with firefighters on the chemical hazards that many flame-extinguishing foams contain; advising petroleum, mining and defence organisations on contaminants; and developing a harmonised national regulatory framework.
But like pollutants, solutions need to cross borders. The CRC CARE team – which Naidu describes as “a mini United Nations” – works to build capacity in developing nations, too, training professionals who can build clean-up teams at home and beyond.
At CleanUp India in December, CRC CARE launched the Indian node of its ambitious globalCARE Initiative – bringing together international scientists, regulators, industry and community groups to share knowledge and find local environmental remedies.
“The pace of remediation is not as fast as we would like,” says Naidu, who is also global innovation chair and director at the University of Newcastle’s Global Centre for Environmental Remediation.
“According to a 2012 WHO report, nearly 13 million people died as a result of living or working in a polluted environment. Compare that figure to the estimated 1.5 million deaths that were directly caused by diabetes – a disease we hear about all the time.
“We’re dealing with a massive problem, not just in Australia but globally, and unless we do something, it’s going to continue to kill people.” – Lauren Martin
Find out more at crccare.com
For more CRC discovery, check out KnowHow 2017