Landcare Research - Manaaki Whenua

Landcare-Research -Manaaki Whenua

Environmental contaminants

Concrete wash discharge. Image - Stephen Moore Our research on environmental contaminants provides understanding of the fate and effect of contaminants leading to improved management to prevent or mitigate contaminant impacts. This includes research on remediation options and the rehabilitation of degraded land.

To assess the effects of contaminants we use in vitro assays, and whole organism testing. Our in vitro toxicity assays use various cell-lines or bacterial strains to look at different mechanisms of toxicity. They can be applied to any environmental matrix, although our focus is largely soil and air. Our whole organism testing uses soil or aquatic invertebrates (eg earthworms, springtails, mayflies). Much of our other research on the fate and remediation of contaminants is focussed on the soil environment (urban and agricultural) recognising that landuse is the primary source of contamination in aquatic systems.

We collaborate with a range of research providers including NIWA, CRL Energy, Agresearch, Plant and Food, University of Canterbury, University of Otago.

We have a strong enduser focus and we work with the mining industry, agricultural sector, regional councils, Ministry for the Environment, Ministry for Primary Industry, Department of Conservation on application in a regulatory environment.

Some current areas of research include:

The beneficial use of biosolids. We are investigating the impacts of contaminants associated with biosolids using in vitro toxicity testing, and earthworm testing to identify the key contaminants of concern. Additionally, we are working with enduser to develop a framework to facilitate the beneficial use of biosolids. This research is undertaken as part of a research programme led by ESR, in collaboration with Landcare Research, Cawthron, Lincoln University.

Impacts of mining. We are investigating the effect of mining related contaminants on aquatic systems, and have developed a framework for decision-making process to prevent or minimise the impacts of mining on aquatic systems in conjunction with endusers. This research is led by CRL Energy, in collaboration with Landcare Research, University of Otago and University of Canterbury. We also have extensive experience in the rehabilitation of mine sites that is largely undertaken through commercial contracts.

Air quality.
We are currently investigating the toxicity associated with particulate matter – this includes ambient air particulates, and particulates from different sources, including woodburner emissions. Out interest is in the influence of chemical composition on observed toxicity. This research is largely conducted as part of a research programme led by NIWA in collaboration with University of Canterbury.

Mitigation of contaminants in urban systems.
This research is examining the use of bioretention devices (eg raingardens, green roofs) to reduce contaminant concentrations in stormwater.

Contaminants in wildlife. We are currently investigating the distribution of persistent organic pollutants in bird species to develop better understanding of the distribution of these contaminants in the New Zealand environment.

Impacts of contaminants in agricultural systems.
Our current focus is examining the distribution and effects of cadmium associated with fertiliser application.


  • Cavanagh JAE, Trought K, Brown L, Duggan S 2009. Exploratory investigation of the chemical characteristics and relative toxicity of ambient air particulates from two New Zealand cities. Science of the total environment 407(18): 5007-5018.
  • Cavanagh JAE, Zawar-Reza P, Wilson JG 2009. Spatial attenuation of ambient particulate matter air pollution within an urbanised native forest patch. Urban Forestry and Urban Greening 8(1): 21-30.
  • Frame B, Cavanagh J 2009. Experiences of sustainability assessment: An awkward adolescence. Accounting Forum(33): 195-208.
  • Epton MJ, Dawson RD, Brooks WM, Kingham S, Aberkane T, Cavanagh JAE, Frampton CM, Hewitt T, Cook JM, McLeod S, McCartin F, Trought K, Brown L 2008. The effect of ambient air pollution on respiratory health of school children: a panel study. Environmental Health 7.
  • Kingham S, Durand M, Harrison J, Cavanagh J, Epton M 2008. Temporal variations in particulate exposure to wood smoke in a residential school environment. Atmospheric Environment 42(19): 4619-4631.
  • O' Halloran K, Cavanagh J, Harding JS 2008. Response of a new New Zealand mayfly (Deleatidium spp.) to acid mine drainage: implications for mine remediation. Environmental toxicology and chemistry 27(5): 1135-1140.
  • Cavanagh JAE, Brown L, Trought K, Kingham S, Epton MJ 2007. Elevated concentrations of 1-hydroxypyrene in schoolchildren during winter in Christchurch, New Zealand. Science of the total environment 374(1): 51-59.
  • Cavanagh JE, Frame B, Lennox J 2006. The Sustainability Assessment Model (SAM): measuring sustainable development performance. Australasian journal of environmental management 13: 142-145.
  • Cavanagh J 2005. Remediation of contaminated site : a global perspective. Waste awareness January-February: 7,16-.
  • Cavanagh J, Coakley J 2005. An introduction to policy on metal contaminants. In: Moore TA, Black A, Centeno JA, Harding JS, Trumm DA ed. Metal contaminants in New Zealand : sources, treatments and effects on ecology and human health. 1. Christchurch, Resolutionz Press. Pp. 5-23.
  • Trumm D, Black A, Gordon K, Cavanagh J, O'Halloran K, de Joux A 2005. Acid mine drainage assessment and remediation at an abandoned West Coast coal mine. In: Moore TA, Black A, Centeno JA, Harding JS, Trumm DA ed. Metal contaminants in New Zealand : sources, treatments and effects on ecology and human health. Christchurch, Resolutionz Press. Pp. 317-340.
  • Mercurio P, Burns KA, Cavanagh J 2004/5. Testing the ecotoxicology of vegetable versus mineral based lubricating oils: 2. Induction of mixed function oxidase enzymes in barramundi, Lates calcarifer, a tropical fish species. Environmental pollution 129(2): 175-182.
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