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Published: 2004-03-12 00:00:00

A specially trained Australian dog is to cross the Tasman to sniff out contaminated sites in the Waikato, thanks to a grant from Environment Waikato.

The Council has provided a $4960 Environmental Initiatives Fund grant to WaiPAC (Waikato Pesticides Awareness Committee) to bring a golden labrador called Norm to the Waikato for a pilot project to detect chemical residues once used to control livestock, agriculture and horticulture pests.

‘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. He can detect dieldrin, DDT and its breakdown products as well as other organochlorines with better than 98 percent accuracy. Two other sniffer dogs are currently being trained.

WaiPAC said many rural and urban landowners wished to take corrective management practices to control sites on their land in a cost effective manner but current methods were expensive.

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

Using Norm would demonstrate to landowners that detection of sites could be affordable and achievable. Individual site assessment costs for former dip sites in the Region had already exceeded $10,000 using standard technology.

In this pilot, Norm would be tested on known contaminated sites and also at a number of selected potentially contaminated sites in the Region.

Environmental Initiatives Fund co-ordinator Kevin Collins said locations of only a tiny fraction of contaminated sites were currently known. Many old dip sites would be impossible to locate using conventional means because many now had no visible structure or had been bulldozed over. Knowledge of where the old sites were was being lost as farms progressively changed hands.

Environment Waikato estimated there were about 5000 to 8000 contaminated sites in the Waikato Region. Where stock grazed over contaminated soil or where the land was subdivided for residential housing, people could be exposed.