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Emerging contaminants research starts on World Water Day

Toxins choking our rivers

Published: 22 March 2019
Whau River winding its way down to the Waitematā Harbour

The accumulation of chemicals from consumer products, industrial and domestic waste in the aquatic environment, is a growing environmental issue.

Emerging Organic Contaminants (EOCs) are ingredients in common products like shampoos, household cleaning products, and medicines. They are ubiquitous, persistent and impact ecosystems and human health but we know little about their concentrations and impacts.

'Managing the Risk of Emerging Contaminants' is a five-year-long national research programme funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) until 2022.

The research is assessing whether EOCs pose a risk to New Zealand’s unique aquatic ecosystems and their potential to accumulate in the food chain. Novel sampling and analysis techniques, as well as community engagement methods, are being developed to identify and characterise the most harmful EOCs.

The project is managed by the Cawthron Institute with partners from Northcott Research Consultants Ltd, ESR, Massey and Griffith Universities. A National Advisory Panel gathered from regional councils, EPA, MfE, MPI, DOC, industry and iwi, oversees the project to ensure the best science and mātauranga knowledge is integrated to achieve the best environmental outcomes.

Research in Whau and Southland

The diverse urban Whau catchment is one of two key study sites (the other being in Southland) where the researchers have partnered with Te Kawerau-ā-Maki, Auckland Council, and EcoMatters to raise the issue of EOCs within communities to develop long-lasting solutions.

Scientists from Auckland Council’s Research and Evaluation Unit are working with the project, providing information from previous surveys and monitoring while specialised sampling equipment is being deployed to identify and measure emerging contaminants.

Auckland Council is undertaking a three-stage research programme looking into the water quality of surface water runoff entering the Whau Estuary from different land uses within the Whau catchment.

The first stage of the program is complete with the second stage currently being planned. The results have been useful in identifying gaps in knowledge.

The study has also promoted a separate programme that aims at improving the water quality runoff by encouraging business to use best operating procedures to minimize contaminates entering the estuary.

Researchers and partners will gather to kick off the programme today, World Water Day.

Clean, healthy water is essential to our future. As our region continues to grow and change, we need to look after this precious taonga.

Visit to have your say on how we should waterproof our future. Feedback is open until 19 April. 

Read more about the Our Water Future: Auckland's water discussion on OurAuckland.