Tuesday 10 September 2019 – The first Australia-wide historical land-use database for assessing site contamination has been developed from open-source and licensed historical artefacts. The new mapping system gives decision makers access to accurate data that allows them to efficiently assess the risk of potentially contaminated sites.

The Australia-wide mapping system is based on historical records of over 3 million business listings, 250,000 aerial photos, and 50,000 maps. ‘And those are only going to keep growing. We’re still finding more,’ says Howard Waldron.

Although several organisations, including environment protection authorities and local councils, have some records, there has previously been no single source for environmental practitioners to use. Howard says that, ‘It’s estimated that there are 160,000 contaminated sites around Australia – the problem is trying to identify them.’

Howard is the Director at Lotsearch, and his team will present this afternoon in Adelaide at CleanUp 2019 – the 8th International Contaminated Site Remediation Conference incorporating the 2nd International PFAS Conference, organised by CRC CARE and the University of Newcastle.

‘The history of a site tells the story of what contaminants might be still around,’ says Howard. For example, if a property once housed a fuel station, it is a potentially contaminated site. This is even more the case if it was a fuel station before strict regulations came in, increasing the likelihood of high levels of petrochemical contamination.’

The Lotsearch team have navigated a multitude of challenges in compiling the data and have encountered disappearing towns, obsolete postal codes, and re-named and re-numbered roads. ‘When these discrepancies crop up, we use the historical sources to map and quality check our data,’ says Howard.

The records themselves are sometimes extremely old. ‘You basically go back in time. Sometimes the artefacts are literally falling apart. And there are old aerial photos taken around the Second World War that are preserved on negatives that have to be kept in a fridge to maintain them.’

The team use sophisticated software to create the maps and datasets, including orthorectification to stitch old photos into one seamless layer. ‘Phone books are the most challenging,’ says Howard. ‘We rely on optical character recognition software but have to make sure the information is extracted properly – which is almost never the case so we have to manually correct it.’

The database automatically generates reports over 2 to 3 days. ‘This is game changer for the industry because it gives the information to the decision makers much faster than they would normally be able to access it,’ says Howard.

Lotsearch are presenting their product and some case studies at the Cleanup 2019 Conference hosted by the Cooperative Research Centre for Contamination Assessment and Remediation of the Environment (CRC CARE). CRC CARE does research, develops technologies, and provides policy guidance for assessing, cleaning up and preventing contamination of soil, water and air. CleanUp 2019 in is Adelaide from 8 to 11 September. Conference program at adelaide2019.cleanupconference.com/program.

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