Based in Christchurch, Jan is a Science Leader of ESR’s Risk and Response group. She earned her PhD in chemistry from the University of Canterbury and went on to become a postdoc fellow at Leeds University.
She joined ESR in 1989 after returning to New Zealand. Initially her work included laboratory analysis and advising the Ministry of Health and health inspectors on drinking water quality. But as Jan explains, both her role and the nature of the work for ESR’s water programme have changed dramatically.
“Over the last quarter century, drinking water standards across New Zealand have greatly improved. Following the World Health Organization’s drinking water guidelines, New Zealand has moved to a much more risk-based approach. It’s an approach that ESR has been able to support through our science and technical advice.”
Today, ESR works with the Ministry of Health on maintaining the Register of Drinking Water Suppliers for New Zealand and is responsible for regular reporting on drinking water quality.
Using the same know-how, Jan has also become an internationally recognised safe drinking water expert, particularly for small communities. She has worked across the Pacific, providing guidance for international and national programmes, such as a three-year project to assist Tonga tourism on issues ranging from rainwater harvesting to food safety. She also works with local communities on site-specific projects to improve sanitation and access to safe drinking water.
“You need to offer extremely practical suggestions for improving drinking water in developing nations,” Jan says.
For example, Jan and her team have recently been contracted to provide technical expertise to UNICEF New Zealand to address water quality, sanitation and hygiene issues for outer island schools in Kiribati, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.
“It is extremely rewarding, issues-driven work,” Jan says. “We use our scientific knowledge to help governments and communities come up with sustainable solutions.”