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Chemical dog to sniff out Hamilton

A specially trained Australian chemical detector dog arrives in Hamilton next week to sniff out contaminated sites in the Waikato.

‘Norm’ (named after Australia’s National Organochlorine Residue Management programme) is the first dog in the world trained to detect chemical residues. Norm is able to detect chemical ‘hot spots’ and his sense of smell is one million times better than the human nose.

The golden labrador will work in the Waikato for six days, testing his ability to identify dangerous chemicals on both urban and rural contaminated sites. He can detect dieldrin, DDT and its breakdown products as well as other organochlorines with better than 98 percent accuracy, finding amounts as small as five parts of organochlorines per billion.

A female dog in training called Breeze will accompany him to test her skills and two other sniffer dogs are currently being trained.

Norm’s visit has been financed by a $4960 Environmental Initiatives Fund grant from Environment Waikato to WaiPAC (Waikato Pesticides Awareness Committee). His visit is part of a pilot project to detect chemical residues once used to control livestock, agriculture and horticulture pests.

WaiPAC spokesman Graham McBride said many rural and urban landowners wanted to deal with potentially contaminated sited on their land in a cost-effective manner, but current detection methods were expensive.

WaiPAC is bringing Norm and Breeze, their handler and a senior veterinary officer from Australia’s Department of Primary Industry to undertake dip site assessments. It also intends to facilitate the training of a New Zealand sniffer dog to help find contaminated sites and ensure its contaminated site guidelines were used.

Norm’s sensitive nose will be tested on known contaminated sites and also at a number of selected potentially contaminated sites in the Region.

Environment Waikato estimates there are about 5000 to 8000 contaminated sites in the Region which could be a threat to grazing stock or to people where the land was subdivided for residential housing.

Mr McBride said the Australians were keen to obtain research data that Environment Waikato and Waikato University had done and to calibrate Norm’s nose over known sites. Included in the test sites was a subdivision at Ngongataha which had previously had a sheep dip on it.

He said Norm and Breeze would be spending their New Zealand stay at “pet-friendly” accommodation, which had been hard to find.

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