University of Newcastle scientist, Ravi Naidu, will lead a global effort to end the pollution of food-growing soils, aiming to combat the urgent environmental issue that poses a significant threat to humanity.

Professor Ravi Naidu will lead the International effort to clean up contaminated soil and implement contamination prevention strategies. Photo source: Business.gov

Professor Naidu will chair the International Network on Soil Pollution (INSOP), established by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, as an urgent response to scale-up global efforts to prevent contamination of arable soils by chemicals, fertilisers and plastics.

“Soil pollution is a large and growing dimension of our increasingly contaminated world,” Professor Naidu said.

“It has a multitude of causes, including overuse of farm chemicals and fertilisers, industrial fallout from big cities and the transport sector as well as the widespread distribution of tiny plastic fragments, acid rain and hazardous waste.”

Intending to achieve zero pollution, INSOP has recruited experts worldwide to understand the full cycle of soil pollution and find ways to prevent and clean it up, hoping to protect both human health and the environment.

INSOP will also help countries strengthen their laws, codes of practice and technical skills to avoid pollution of food-growing soils and human food.

“Given recent advances in farm management, including precision agriculture, there are excellent opportunities to reduce the 200 million tonnes of fertilisers and five million tonnes of pesticides added to farmed soils globally each year,” Professor Naidu said.

INSOP will support farmers with the best practices, helping to build long-term soil health and minimise the environmental impacts of agriculture, such as nitrogen pollution from fertilisers.

Professor Naidu emphasised mounting evidence that soil pollution directly affected the quality and safety of the world food supply and was a growing factor in human disease and premature death.

“If you contaminate the soil, the pollution can spread to groundwater and surface water, affecting the safety of drinking water,” he said.

“We have known for generations about the dire effects of air and water pollution in big cities – but the contamination of soils, and the food they produce, has been a sleeping giant.

“Food is one of the four main pathways by which toxins enter humanity.”

As managing director of Australia’s leading contaminants research centre, CRC CARE, Professor Naidu has been a leader in Australian contamination and clean-up science for over 30 years.

The University of Newcastle academic holds 13 patents and has authored over 1000 scientific papers, books and book chapters.

His most recent research was published in the article, Chemical pollution: A growing peril and potential catastrophic risk to humanity.

After founding CRC CARE in 2004, Professor Naidu led the charge in developing technologies to assess, clean up and prevent soil, water and air contamination.

These included an environmentally friendly solution to China’s pig waste problem, developing a method for remediating lead-contaminated shooting ranges, and a world-leading method for cleaning up the toxic chemicals found in some fire-fighting foams.

Chairman of CRC CARE and former senator, Sean Edwards, said that Professor Naidu’s appointment recognised Australia’s high international standing in contamination and remediation science and is a tribute to his distinguished leadership.

“We are delighted that an Australian scientist has been chosen to head up and drive such an important global endeavour,” Edwards said.

“Ravi is an outstanding contributor and team leader and will play a key role in making our world cleaner and safer.”

Maia O’Connor

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