Newsletter Digest: Biowaste and nanotech

When scientists ask: is it safe?

Biowaste – it is being applied to agricultural land all over the world to replenish soil, but here in New Zealand most of this nutrient-rich material ends up covering landfill.

That may change if we can find an efficient way to apply biowaste to our land and more importantly, if we can make sure that doing so is safe to the environment and to us. That safety issue is the focus of research being undertaken by scientists drawn from across the Crown Research Institutes who are looking at the new types of contaminants in biowaste and how they impact on the environment.

Those emerging contaminants were under the spotlight this week at a workshop held at Environmental Science and Research and featuring leading environmental scientist Dr Susan Jobling. You can listen back to a briefing on the subject the SMC held this week. Elsewhere, the safety of nanomaterials has been getting attention from New Zealand experts.

Nanotech: how do we regulate?

In a commentary published in top journal Nature Nanotechnology, University of Canterbury Professor Simon Brown critiques regulators’ lack of decisive action on nanomaterials. He argues that calls from governments for further scientific information lead to “paralysis by analysis”, and that policies must be designed to regulate emerging nanotechnologies in the face of uncertainty.

Among his recommendations: mandating that businesses identify and quantify all nanomaterials used in their products, and a labelling scheme to provide transparency to consumers.