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The state of the environment affects us all.  Maintaining a healthy environment is an Australian Government priority. 

The National Measurement Institute (NMI) supports the environmental sector with world-class expertise.

We:

  • provide strong science-based evidence to inform environmental risk managers and decision makers
  • support the inclusion of good management principles in environmental policy and guidance 

Our stakeholders need accurate, reliable data to manage:

  • water systems including surface, marine, drinking, waste and recycled water
  • agricultural and food products 
  • the natural environment, including wildlife
  • contaminants that affect the land, water or atmosphere 

Both community concern and environmental regulation drive the need for environmental measurements in Australia. 

Our regulatory stakeholders include:

  • Australian Government, state and territory environment agencies
  • local councils, landholders and water catchment managers 
  • stakeholders in the environment, health, agriculture and resources portfolios

Other key sector stakeholders include:

  • industry
  • professional and research associations
  • risk assessment and toxicology experts and consultants
  • commercial laboratories 
  • community advocacy groups

NMI works to address global and emerging environmental concerns. We:

Our work

NMI’s capabilities include commercial environmental measurement, testing, analysis and calibration services. Our services support:

  • air, water and soil quality assessment
  • contaminated site assessment and remediation
  • waste treatment and management 
  • mining and resources environmental monitoring

We help our stakeholders manage known environmental priorities and meet regulatory compliance requirements for: 

NMI’s testing and calibration services support regulatory compliance, including for crisis response. 

We develop measurement and testing standards to help ensure that measurements are reliable and comparable.

Our research helps identify and explore new capabilities and address emerging issues such as:

  • particulate pollution
  • engineered and other nanomaterials
  • microplastics 
  • new contaminants of concern

Core responsibilities

NMI’s core responsibilities in supporting the environmental sector include:

  • detecting and quantifying chemical contaminants 
  • developing and applying chemical measurement tools including reference materials
  • proficiency testing
  • providing calibration services
  • developing standards for physical quantities in environmental applications

How we meet these responsibilities

We specialise in measuring and testing environmental matrices including: 

  • drinking and saline water
  • waste and industrial water and solids
  • environmental water and solids
  • soil
  • sediment and dredge material
  • aquatic, marine and terrestrial biota (animal and plant life)
  • biosolids (recycled sewage products)
  • ambient and indoor air
  • paint, oils, filters and swabs

Industry collaboration

NMI collaborates with industry to ensure good environmental outcomes. This includes crisis response when contamination incidents occur.

Bluescope Steel stack fire 

Fire destroyed a chimney stack containing dioxin emission control equipment at Bluescope Steel’s Port Kembla facility in 2014.

Dioxins are recognised as dangerous and regulated under international treaty. 

The environmental regulator allowed work to continue using a secondary stack on the condition dioxin emissions were monitored intensively. 

NMI’s Ultra-trace Laboratory team worked in shifts to streamline the monitoring process. 

Instead of the usual 15 days, our team took 72 hours to provide the sampling equipment and rapid analyses needed to meet the regulator’s condition.

DNA reference materials for water testing

NMI worked with Diagnostic Technology, a testing technology developer, to create [DNA reference standards] for inclusion in a commercial cyanobacteria test kit.

We designed a synthetic DNA reference material made up of defined copy numbers of four toxin gene sequences. 

The kit was developed with the US market in mind. It is also being trialled at Sydney Water laboratories. The kit results are comparable over time and between laboratories. 

We are applying this new capability to other projects.

Research examples

When new research is needed NMI works with regulators, researchers, industry and overseas measurement institutes to develop appropriate measurement methods.

PFAS contamination

PFAS – perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances – are potentially toxic synthetic chemicals.

The possible impacts of PFAS on environmental and human health are being investigated. 

PFAS are used in firefighting foam, non-stick coatings, and other industrial products.

NMI identified a lack of PFAS proficiency testing in Australian analytical methodologies for emerging contaminants in 2013.

We conducted Australia’s first PFAS proficiency study and shared the study findings with industry and government stakeholders across Australia in 2015.

We expanded proficiency testing to include biota in our 2016 follow-up study. 

We continue to build our capacity by:

  • working with the Australasian Land and Groundwater Association (ALGA) to educate industry 
  • contributing to the whole-of-government response to PFAS

Petroleum hydrocarbons

Petroleum hydrocarbons are the most common environmental contaminant. 

National regulations for reporting petroleum hydrocarbons changed substantially in 2013.

NMI led a major collaborative project to help commercial laboratories adopt these changes. 

We identified two issues: 

We addressed these issues by:

  • developing a reference method
  • producing Australia’s first environmental matrix certified reference material for total recoverable hydrocarbons 
  • using the reference material in proficiency testing to assess the performance of Australian and overseas laboratories

Emerging issues

We conduct research with nationally and internationally recognised collaborators to identify and explore new capabilities and address emerging issues. 

This includes research into:

  • new contaminants of concern
  • greenhouse gases 
  • molecular techniques for environmental monitoring (for example blue-green algae)

New contaminants of concern 

New contaminants of concern can be hard to measure – for example where they occur at low levels, or where our current analyses can’t tell the difference between compounds. 

NMI’s Ultra-trace Laboratory is the only laboratory in Australia to be part of the United Nations Environmental Program.

The lab specialises in measuring POPs – a potential threat to the environment and human health because they bioaccumulate in the food chain.

NMI also runs a nanoparticle characterisation laboratory where we develop new ways to detect engineered nanomaterials. 

Greenhouse gases

Sharing of resources is increasing between the farming and CSG industries. 

This means we must manage the potential impacts of the industry on water systems and air quality. 

We support the environmental management of CSG extraction including through:

  • environmental impact assessments
  • regulatory compliance verification
  • baseline quality testing of groundwater, CSG-produced water and processed water before it is reinjected, reused or released
  • air quality testing for volatile organic compounds, methane, air toxics, ozone precursors and other pollutants
  • specialist services in gas composition and gas reference standards for other laboratories
  • noise and vibration measurements 

Molecular techniques for environmental monitoring

Commercial laboratories now use molecular (DNA-based) analysis methods for routine monitoring of: 

  • environmental health
  • invasive species 
  • toxic organisms (algal blooms in marine and freshwater environments) 

Our Bioanalysis Laboratory is developing DNA reference material for commercial test kits.

These kits will detect genes from target pathogens including toxic algal and plankton blooms in freshwater and marine environments. 

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Last updated: 17 June 2019

Content ID: 64617