Environmental monitoring in soil contamination and remediation programs: how practitioners are using the Internet to share knowledge

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  • CriticalReview

    Environmental monitoring in soil contamination and remediation

    programs: how practitioners are using the Internet to share knowledge

    Turlough F. Guerin

    Shell Engineering Ltd., NSW State Office, PO Box 26, Granville, 2142 New South Wales,Australia. E-mail: turlough.guerin@shell.com.au

    Received 29th January 2001, Accepted 14th March 2001First published as an Advance Article on the web 24th April 2001

    Internet listservers provide a means for professionals from all sectors of the industry and profession, to

    communicate and collaborate with each other, as well as other stakeholders (e.g., suppliers, academics, the

    general public and community members) in real time. This article highlights key Internet listservers in the field of

    environmental monitoring in soil contamination and remediation and how to subscribe to them. The most active

    and relevant listservers for environmental scientists, technologists and professionals in the soil contamination

    and remediation profession are the Bioremediation Discussion Group (BioGroup), Phytonet, Phytoremediation

    listserver, Groundwater listserver and Environmental Forensics listserver. Other observations and lessons so far

    from the use of Internet listservers are: (i) that moderators provide an important role in maintaining the level of

    quality and participation, (ii) do not underestimate the knowledge base held within these, and (iii) if not selected

    and managed properly, e-mail from listservers can generate an excess of e-mail and waste time.


    The generation of knowledge in environmental monitoring ofsoil contamination and remediation has increased dramaticallyover the past 20 years. Over this time, international collabora-tion on soil contamination and remediation issues has becomeevident at the highest level between countries.1 Formation ofpartnerships for joint research and implementing site assess-ment and remediation solutions, are developing2,3 and there arenow numerous international organizations and collaborations,and websites resulting from these, providing access tocompleted reports and other shared learnings, e.g., US EPA,RTDF (Research & Technology Development Forum), andNATOs Committee for Challenges of Modern Society.47

    Lower-level interactions between organizations and individualpractitioners have also increased, particularly so with thewidespread adoption of the Internet in developed nations overthe past 510 years. International collaboration is nowbecoming a topic of interest at international conferences onsoil contamination and remediation. For example, this topicper se (excluding presentations based on the results ofinternational collaboration), was addressed as the primarycontent of up to 7% of all the presentations at two recentinternational soil contamination and remediation conferences.8

    For effective technology transfer and adoption it isimportant to recognize and harness informal networks ofprofessionals.9 This applies to corporations with potentialtechnology adopters within operating business units, companypractitioners and consultants. It also applies to governmentsand non-governmental organizations.

    Internet listservers have become an important mechanismfor technology and information transfer, a technology in itselfthat is enabling this networking. In a soil contamination andremediation context, the use of the Internet and Internetlistservers are contributing to the sharing of knowledge at allthese levels, encouraging contributions from a wide range ofpractitioners and allowing the widespread distribution of ideasin this diverse field.10 As previously described in a recentpublication on the Internet and listservers as sources ofinformation and knowledge, if moderated by an expert in thefield, listservers can be useful resources, particularly for rapid

    exchange of ideas and discussion.11 From this perspective,Internet listservers have much to offer as a means of supportingcollaborative learning and technology transfer.

    The purpose of this article is to provide environmentalscientists, technologists and professionals with information tohelp them decide which listservers to subscribe to and how todo this. The focus of this discussion is summarized in thefollowing question: How can environmental professionals,working in the field of soil contamination and remediation,access the knowledge of other related professionals using Internetlistservers? In addressing this focus, the discussion addressesthe following related questions.

    What are Internet listservers and how can they be used?Which are the key Internet listservers available to environ-

    mental scientists, technologists, and professionals working inthe field of environmental monitoring of soil contaminationand remediation?

    What have we learnt so far about Internet listservers andtheir usefulness for environmental scientists, technologists, andprofessionals?

    Internet listservers

    Software issues

    Listservers are subscribed electronic discussion groups thatallow the users on the mailing listserver to exchangeinformation with one another and post questions on a broadrange of topics. The exchange of information takes place viae-mail where the message that one posts to the listserver will bebroadcast to everyone on that particular listserver. Thesoftware responsible for the management and distribution ofe-mail messages to subscribers, are commonly called list-servers. A listserver automatically distributes an e-mailmessage from one member of a listserver to all other memberson that listserver.

    There are two important facts that potential listserversubscribers need to know. First, in order to access theinformation on the listserver, one needs to subscribe to it viaan e-mail account. An Internet browser is required to openthese websites, such as Microsoft Internet Explorer, Netscape

    DOI: 10.1039/b100984m J. Environ. Monit., 2001, 3, 267273 267

    This journal is # The Royal Society of Chemistry 2001



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    View Article Online / Journal Homepage / Table of Contents for this issue


  • Communicator or Eudora. Second, every listserver has twoaddresses. The first is the listserver manager address. This isthe address to which administrative commands are sent (e.g.subscribe or unsubscribe). Only the software sees thesemessages. The other address is the listserver address. Thisis where messages are sent that are directed to everyone on thelistserver. Listservers, in many instances, are set up so that onlysubscribers may post.

    Subscriptions to listservers

    Once it has been decided which listservers are to be subscribedto, one can then manage these relatively easily. It is possible tobe subscribed to several of these listservers simultaneously.Many professionals indicate that subscription to listservers canfill their e-mail inboxes and of course that is true and alimitation of having information served up to an e-mailaccount. But this can be handled relatively simply withfunctions on the e-mail software, which can sort incominge-mails from various listservers into specific inbox folders.Microsoft Outlook for example, will allow subscribers to directincoming e-mails from a range of listservers to specific folders,within Microsoft Outlook, to keep listserver e-mails frompersonal e-mails. Alternatively, one can subscribe via adifferent account that one can freely access on the Internet(e.g. www.hotmail.com) and have subscriptions go there, whichagain can be handled relatively easily. A drawback with thesefree Internet service providers is that they can be very slow touse. Also, some listservers have a digest option that ensuresthat subscribers only receive one e-mail from that listserverover a specified period of time, e.g., over a 24 h period. Ifparticular listservers prove to be unsuitable for ones purposesafter a period of evaluation, it is simply a matter ofunsubscribing from that listserver.

    The instructions for subscribing to each of the listservers areusually described at a website or URL (universal resourcelocator). At the time of publication of this article, the URLsgiven in this article were correct. Where there has been a changein homepage spelling, search the Internet using a powerfulsearch engine such as http://www.copernic.com to find the newURL location of the listserver, if it still exists.

    First time users and housekeeping issues

    It is prudent, as a first time subscriber, not to expect text-book answers, even from the most carefully worded questionsposted to a listserver. The main value of listservers lies in thevariety of responses and opinions surrounding the topic inquestion. On the other hand, be careful not to underestimatethe knowledge base that can contribute to these discussions.Dont think that there will be little value in joining. At least tryone of the listservers described in this article to see the widerange of contributions in terms of both style, skill andknowledge. Furthermore, dont be put off by a poor responseor an apparent personal attack when posting a messageit istypically best to ignore these. Sometimes questions or postingsto a listserver need to be reworded and clarifications made andthen resent. Requests should be worded carefully, thinkingthrough how others on the listserver will perceive a posting. Inthe case of the BioGroup, only y25% of first-time posts areaccepted.

    One of the most valuable aspects of listservers is the varietyof p


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