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Professor Margaret Burchett


Dr Margaret Burchett is a plant scientist with special expertise in plant environmental toxicology and management, and the use of plants to reduce and ameliorate pollution in soil, sediments, or air. She is now an Adjunct Professor in the Faculty of Science and chief investigator in several research projects.
Margaret is a former Head of School of life sciences, UTS, and Co Director of the Centre for Ecotoxicology, a joint venture of UTS and NSW EPA. She was founding President of the Australasian Society for Ecotoxicology (ASE). For four years she was a member of the International Environmental Panel for Oktedi mining, PNG.
Dr Burchett is also a former university representative member of the NSW Contaminated Site Auditors’ Accreditation Panel and is a co-convenor of the School of the Environment Contaminated Site Short Course program.

Adjunct Professor, Faculty of Science
Can supervise: Yes

Book Chapters

Yunusa, I.A., Veeragathipillai, M., Burchett, M., Eamus, D. & Skilbeck, C.G. 2007, 'Utilisation of coal combustion products in agriculture' in Gurba, L; Heidrich, C; Ward, C (eds), Coal Combustion Products Handbook, Cooperative Research Centre for Coal in Sustainable Development, Australia, pp. 374-409.
Burchett, M., Mousine, R. & Tarran, J. 2002, 'Phytomonitoring for urban environmental management' in Omasa K;Saji H; Youssefian S; Kondo n (eds), Air Pollution and Plant Biotechnology: Propects for Phytomonitoring and Phytoremediation, Springer-Verlag, Tokyo, pp. 61-91.

Conference Papers

Yunusa, I.A., Burchett, M., Veeragathipillai, M. & de Saint-Simon, X. 2007, 'Germination and early growth of crop and pasture species on media amended with two contrasting types of coal fly-ashes', World of Coal Ash, Covington, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA, May 2007 in World of Coal ash; Science Applications and sustainability, ed University oF Kentucky, centre for Applied Energy Research and the American Coal Ash Association, University oF Kentucky, centre for Applied Energy Research and the American Coal Ash Association, USA, pp. 1-11.
Tarran, J., Torpy, F.R. & Burchett, M. 2007, 'Use of living pot-plants to cleanse indoor air-research review', Japan, October 2007 in Proceedings of the 6th International Conference on Indoor Air Quality, Ventilation & Energy Conservation in Buildings, ed Hiroshi Yoshino, Tohoku University Press, Sendai, Japan, pp. 249-256.
Urban indoor air quality (IAQ) is an international health issue since city dwellers spend 90% of their time indoors. Research by a number of authors is reviewed here, demonstrating a range of capacities of indoor plants to imporve IAQ and promote occupants wellbeing. Our laboratory studies, wit nice 'indoor plant' species, and our 'field' studies in 60 offices, show that potted plants ca reliably reduce totl volatile organic compound (TVOC) loads, a major class of indoor pollutants, by 75%, to below 100ppb. Theyw ork equally wellw ith or without air-conditioning and in light or dark. An evaluation of these studies is presented, plus novel research shwoing that potted-plants can also remove indoor CO and, sometimes, CO2. The evidence overall cearly shows that the potted-plant microcosm represents an innovative technology for solving indoor air pollution, which can otherwise cause a range of adverse health effects, including building-related illness" This portabe, flexible, attractive, low-cost techology can complement any engineering measures and can be used in any building. To ensure sustainability of the urban environment, satisfying the 'triple bottom line' of environmental, social and economic considerations, indoor plants can be expected to become standard technology for improving IAQ - a vital building installation element.
Yunusa, I.A., Eamus, D., De Silva, D.L., Murray, B.R., Burchett, M., Skilbeck, C.G. & Heidrich, C. 2005, 'Prospects for coal-ash in the management of Australian soils', World of Coal Ash 2005, Lexington, USA, April 2005 in World of Coal Ash Proceedings, ed Caylor, G, Coal ash Association and the University of Kentucky's Centre for Applied Energy Research, Lexington, USA, p. CD ROM.

Journal Articles

Torpy, F.R., Irga, P.J. & Burchett, M. 2014, 'Profiling indoor plants for the amelioration of high CO2 concentrations', Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, vol. 13, pp. 227-233.
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Research over the last three decades has shown that indoor plants can reduce most types of urban air pollutants, however there has been limited investigation of their capacity to mitigate elevated levels of CO2. This study profiled the CO2 removal potential of eight common indoor plant species, acclimatised to both indoor and glasshouse lighting levels, to develop baseline data to facilitate the development of indoor plant installations to improve indoor air quality by reducing excess CO2 concentrations. The results indicate that, with the appropriate choice of indoor plant species and a targeted increase in plant specific lighting, plantscape installations could be developed to remove a proportion of indoor CO2. Further horticultural research and development will be required to develop optimum systems for such installations, which could potentially reduce the load on ventilation systems.
Torpy, F.R., Irga, P.J., Brennan, J.P. & Burchett, M. 2013, 'Do indoor plants contribute to the aeromycota in city buildings?', Aerobiologia, vol. 29, pp. 321-331.
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Do indoor plants contribute to the aeromycota in city buildings?
Irga, P.J., Torpy, F.R. & Burchett, M. 2013, 'Can hydroculture be used to enhance the performance of indoor plants for the removal of air pollutants?', Atmospheric Environment, vol. 77, no. 1, pp. 267-271.
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The indoor plant, Syngonium podophyllum, grown in both conventional potting mix and hydroculture, was investigated for its capacity to reduce two components of indoor air pollution; volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and CO2. It was found that, with a moderate increase in indoor light intensity, this species removed significant amounts of CO2 from test chambers, removing up to 61% 2.2 of 1000 ppmv over a 40 min period. It was also found that the hydroculture growth medium facilitated increased CO2 removal over potting mix. The VOC removing potential of hydroculture plants was also demonstrated. Whilst the rate of VOC (benzene) removal was slightly lower for hydroculture-grown plants than those grown in potting mix, both removed 25 ppmv from the test chambers within 7 days. The effect of benzene on the community level physiological profiles of rhizospheric bacteria was also assessed. There was less variability in the carbon substrate utilisation profile of the bacterial community from the rhizosphere of hydroculture plants compared to potting mix, however the species present encompassed at least those involved with VOC removal. Overall, we propose that plants grown in hydroculture can simultaneously deplete CO2 and VOCs, and thus may have potential for improving indoor air quality.
Torpy, F.R., Irga, P.J., Moldovan, D., Tarran, J. & Burchett, M. 2013, 'Characterization and biostimulation of benzene biodegradation in the potting-mix of indoor plants', Journal of Applied Horticulture, vol. 15, no. 1, pp. 10-15.
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Over 900 volatile organic compounds (VOCs) have been detected in indoor air, where they cause acute and chronic health problems to building occupants. Potted-plants can signifi cantly reduce VOC levels in indoor air, the root-zone bacteria of the potting mix effecting most of the VOC biodegradation. In this study, a baseline community level physiological profi le (CLPP) was established for the potting mix bacteria of the indoor plant species, Spathiphyllum wallisii `Petite+, using Biolog EcoPlates, to provide information on the functional abilities of this community. Changes in the CLPP resulting from benzene exposure were then determined and following the identifi cation of the carbon sources associated with changes in the CLPP, biostimulant solutions were formulated and applied to fresh potted-plant specimens. Biostimulation of benzene removal was observed, with increases in removal rates of about 15%, providing proof-of-concept for the biostimulation of this process. The findings further elucidate the mechanisms of bacterial activity associated with removal of indoor airborne benzene, and could be applied to increase VOC biodegradation rates, augmenting the uses of indoor plants in improving building environmental quality.
Sommerville, K.D., Pulkownik, A. & Burchett, M. 2012, 'Reproductive Biology Of A Threatened Australian Saltmarsh Plant - Wilsonia Backhousei', Aquatic Botany, vol. 99, pp. 1-10.
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The reproductive biology of a threatened saltmarsh plant, Wilsonia backhousei Hook.f., was investigated with a view to improving conservation and restoration outcomes for the species. Population phenology was studied every two weeks, over two consecutive
Yunusa, I.A., Loganathan, P., Nissanka, S.P., Manoharan, V., Burchett, M., Skilbeck, C.G. & Eamus, D. 2012, 'Application of coal fly ash in agriculture: A strategic perspective', Critical Reviews in Environmental Science and Technology, vol. 42, no. 6, pp. 559-600.
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Fly ash is a major waste of coal-power generation and its management is a major environmental and economic challenge, and it will become even more critical with a projected increase in the reliance on coal for power generation. The authors discuss how th
Veeragathipillai, M., Yunusa, I.A., Loganathan, P., Lawrie, R., Skilbeck, C.G., Burchett, M., Murray, B.R. & Eamus, D. 2010, 'Assessments of Class F fly ashes for amelioration of soil acidity and their influence on growth and uptake of Mo and Se by canola', Fuel, vol. 89, no. 11, pp. 3498-3504.
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Coal fly ash can be used to ameliorate productivity constraints in agricultural soils, but their efficacy still remains highly variable. To ascertain the capacity of Class F fly ashes to modify pH of acidic soils, and their effects on the yield and uptake of molybdenum (Mo) and selenium (Se) by canola (Brassica napus L.), we applied two acidic and two alkaline Class F ashes at rates equivalent to 0, 12, 36, and 108 Mg/ ha to the top layer (0++10 cm) of 100 cm long intact cores of acidic sandy clay and clay loam soils. Only the alkaline ash which had the highest calcium carbonate equivalent (2.43%) increased the pH of the top 10 cm of the sandy clay soil. However, this ash was also highly saline and when applied at P36 Mg/ha it increased the electrical conductivity in the top soil layer. Increases in soil pH as a result of alkaline ash addition also elevated concentrations of Se in the plant shoot. The ashes with high concentrations of Mo and Se generally increased uptake of these elements in the plant shoot and/or seed. When these ashes were applied at 108 Mg/ha they increased the concentrations of these elements in the treated topsoil.
Yunusa, I.A., Burchett, M., Veeragathipillai, M., DeSilva, L., Eamus, D. & Skilbeck, C.G. 2009, 'Photosynthetic Pigment Concentrations, Gas Exchange and Vegetative Growth for Selected Monocots and Dicots Treated with Two Contrasting Coal Fly Ashes', Journal of Environmental Quality, vol. 38, no. 4, pp. 1466-1472.
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There is uncertainty as to the races of coal fly ash needed for optimum physiological processes and growth. In the current study we tested the hyothesis that photosynthetic pigments concentrations and CO2 assimilation (A) are more sensitive than dry weights in plants grown on media amended with coal fly ash. We applied the Terrestrial Plant Growth Test (Guideline 208) protocols of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to monocots [barley (Hordeum vulgare) and ryegrass (Secale cereale)] and dicots [canola (Brasica napus), radish (Raphanus sativus), field peas (Pisum sativum), and lucerne (Medicago sativa)] on media amended with fly ashes derived from semi-bituminous (gray ash) or lignite (red ash) coals at rates of 0, 2.5, 5.0, 10, or 20 Mg ha(-1). The red ash had higher elemental concentrations and salinity than the gray ash. Fly ash addition had no significant effect on germination by any of the six species. At moderate rates (<= 10 Mg ha(-1)) both ashes increased (P < 0.05) growth rates and concentrations of chlorophylls a and b, but reduced carotenoid concentrations. Addition of either ash increased A in radish and transpiration in barley Growth rates and final dry weights were reduced for all of the six test species when addition rates exceeded 10 Mg ha(-1) for gray ash and 5 Mg ha(-1) for red ash. We concluded that plant dry weights, rather than pigment concentrations and/or instantaneous rates of photosynthesis, are more consistent for assessing subsequent growth in plants Supplied with fly ash. Copyright (C) 2009 by the American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, and Soil Science Society of America. All rights reserved. No part of this periodical may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
Muir, M.A., Yunusa, I.A., Burchett, M., Lawrie, R., Chan, K.Y. & Veeragathipillai, M. 2007, 'Short-term responses of two contrasting species of earthworms in an agricultural soil amended with coal fly-ash', Soil Biology & Biochemistry, vol. 39, no. 5, pp. 987-992.
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With the renewewd interest in the use of coal fly-ash for amendment of agricultural soils in Australia, we assessed how earthworms, as indicators of soil health, responded to this ameliorant. We assessed survival, weight, burrowing and elemntal concentrations for earthworms of a native unnamed Megascolecid species and exotic Aporrectodea trapezoides inintect soil cores treated with an alkaline fly-ash at rates aquivalent to 0, 5 and 25t/ha over 6 weeks. Fly ash did not affect survival, growth number of burrows created or phosphorous solubilisation. Transfer of the earthworms to the new environment having vastly different pH from where they were collected, and possibly overcrowding, caused mortality in the soil cores for all treatments. A.trapezoides that had smaller individuals suffered mortality by 0.24 (25% of their original weight) while those of A. trapezoides lot 0.18g each (21% of their original weight).The difference in growth between the two earhtworms was associated with grazing habit andprobably with the large differences in the pH which was more abundant in the fly-ash than the soil, compared with A. trapezoides that had elevated concentration of this metal.Extractable P in the soil was increased with noth species of earhtworms, more so with the exotic species that solubilised 11% more P than the native Megascolecids. The benign influence of fly-ash on survival and growth of worms was associated with the pH of soil remaining unchanged during the six weeks of incubation.
Ahmed, A., Johnson, K.A., Burchett, M. & Kenny, B.J. 2006, 'The effects of heat, smoke, leaching, scarification, temperature and NaCl salinity on the germination of Solanum centrale (the Australian bush tomato)', Seed Science And Technology, vol. 34, no. 1, pp. 33-45.
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Poor germination is considered a barrier to the horticultural development of a commercially significant Australian native edible species, Solanum centrale JM Black (bush tomato). Seed viability and the effects of heat, smoke. soaking, leaching, temperatu
Wood, R., Burchett, M., Alquezar, R., Orwell, R.L., Tarran, J. & Torpy, F.R. 2006, 'The potted-plant microcosm substantially reduces indoor air VOC pollution I. Office field-study', Water Air And Soil Pollution, vol. 175, no. 1-4, pp. 163-180.
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Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are major contaminants of indoor air, with concentrations often several times higher than outdoors. They are recognized as causative agents of building-related illness or sick-building syndrome. Our previous laboratory t
Yunusa, I.A., Eamus, D., De Silva, D.L., Murray, B.R., Burchett, M., Skilbeck, C.G. & Heidrich, C. 2006, 'Fly-ash: An exploitable resource for management of Australian agricultural soils', Fuel, vol. 85, no. 16, pp. 2337-2344.
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Agricultural soils in Australia have inherent limitations of structural and nutritional nature that pose major constraints to crop productivity. These soils are still productive due to intensive management that involves routine treatments with lime and g
Orwell, R.L., Wood, R., Burchett, M., Tarran, J. & Torpy, F.R. 2006, 'The potted plant microcosm substantially reduces indoor air VOC pollution II', Water Air and Soil Pollution, vol. 177, pp. 59-80.
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Indoor air-borne loads of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are usually significantly higher than those outdoors, and chronic exposures can cause health problems. Our previous laboratory studies have shown that the potted-plant microcosm, induced by an initial dose, can eliminate high air-borne VOC concentrations, the primary removal agents being potting-mix microorganisms, selected and maintained in the plant/root-zone microcosm. Our office field-study, reported in the preceding paper, showed that, when total VOC (TVOC) loads in reference offices (0 plants) rose above about 100 ppb, levels were generally reduced by up to 75% (to < 100 ppb) in offices with any one of three planting regimes. The results indicate the induction of the VOC removal mechanism at TVOC levels above a threshold of about 100 ppb. The aims of this laboratory dose-response study were to explore and analyse this response. Over from 5 to 9 days, doses of 0.2, 1.0, 10 and 100 ppm toluene and m-xylene were applied and replenished, singly and as mixtures, to potted-plants of the same two species used in the office study. The results confirmed the induction of the VOC removal response at the lowest test dosage, i.e in the middle of the TVOC range found in the offices, and showed that, with subsequent dosage increments, further stepwise induction occurred, with rate increases of several orders of magnitude. At each dosage, with induction, VOC concentrations could be reduced to below GC detection limits (< 20 ppb) within 24 h. A synergistic interaction was found with the binary mixtures, toluene accelerating m-xylene removal, at least at lower dosages. The results of these two studies together demonstrate that the potted-plant microcosm can provide an effective, self-regulating, sustainable bioremediation or phytoremediation system for VOC pollution in indoor air.
Wood, R., Burchett, M., Alquezar, R., Orwell, R.L., Tarran, J. & Torpy, F.R. 2006, 'The potted-plant microcosm substantially reduces indoor air VOC pollution: 1. Office field-study', Water, Air, and Soil Pollution, vol. 175, no. 1-4, pp. 163-180.
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are major contaminants of indoor air, with concentrations often several times higher than outdoors. They are recognized as causative agents of "building-related illness" or "sick-building syndrome". Our previous laboratory test-chamber studies have shown that the potted-plant/root-zone microorganism microcosm can eliminate high concentrations of air-borne VOCs within 24 hours, once the removal response has been induced by an initial dose. However, the effectiveness of the potted-plant microcosm in 'real-world' indoor spaces has never previously been tested experimentally. This paper reports the results of a field-study on the effects of potted-plant presence on total VOC (TVOC) levels, measured in 60 offices (12 per treatment), over two 5-9 week periods, using three planting regimes, with two 'international indoor-plant' species. Fourteen VOCs were identified in the office air. When TVOC loads in reference offices rose above 100 ppb, large reductions, of from 50 to 75% (to <100 ppb), were found in planted offices, under all planting regimes The results indicate that air-borne TVOC levels above a threshold of about 100 ppb stimulate the graded induction of an efficient metabolic VOC-removal mechanism in the microcosm. Follow-up laboratory dose-response experiments, reported in the following paper, confirm the graded induction response, over a wide range of VOC concentrations. The findings together demonstrate that potted-plants can provide an efficient, self-regulating, low-cost, sustainable, bioremediation system for indoor air pollution, which can effectively complement engineering measures to reduce indoor air pollution, and hence improve human wellbeing and productivity.
Melville, F.R., Pulkownik, A. & Burchett, M. 2005, 'Zonal and seasonal variation in the distribution and abundance of mangrove macroalgae in the Parramatta River, Australia', Estuarine Coastal And Shelf Science, vol. 64, no. 2-3, pp. 267-276.
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The purpose of this study was to examine the spatial and temporal variation of macroalgae epiphytic on pneumatophores of the Grey mangrove, Avicennia marina (Forsk.) Vierh., in the Parramatta River, the major estuarine system flowing into Sydney Harbour.
Orwell, R.L., Wood, R., Tarran, J., Torpy, F.R. & Burchett, M. 2004, 'Removal of benzene by the indoor plant/substrate microcosm and implications for air quality', Water, Air, and Soil Pollution, vol. 157, pp. 193-207.
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Melville, F.R., Burchett, M. & Pulkownik, A. 2004, 'Genetic variation among age-classes of the mangrove Avicennia marina in clean and contaminated sediments', Marine Pollution Bulletin, vol. 49, pp. 695-703.
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Macfarlane, G.R., Pulkownik, A. & Burchett, M. 2003, 'Accumulation and distribution of heavy metals in the grey mangrove, Avicennia marina (Forsk.)Vierh.: biological indication potential', Environmental Pollution, vol. 123, no. 1, pp. 139-151.
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Melville, F.R. & Burchett, M. 2002, 'Genetic variation in Avicennia marina in three estuaries', Marine Pollution Bulletin, vol. 44, no. N/A, pp. 469-479.
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Wood, R., Orwell, R.L., Tarran, J., Torpy, F.R. & Burchett, M. 2002, 'Potted plant/growth media interactions and capacities for removal of volatile from indoor air', Journal of Horticultural Science and Biotechnology, vol. 77, no. 1, pp. 120-129.
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Macfarlane, G.R. & Burchett, M. 2000, 'Cellular Distirbution of Copper, Lead and Zinc in the Grey Mangrove Avicennia marina', Aquatic Botany, vol. 68, no. 1, pp. 45-59.
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Wood, R., Burchett, M., Alquezar, R., Orwell, R.L., Tarran, J. & Torpy, F.R. 2004, 'Using pot plants to clean indoor air', The Nursery Papers, Nursery and Garden Industry Australia, Sydney, Australia, pp. 1-4.
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Polluted indoor air, air contaminated by Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), are a major cause of headaches, nausea, concentration loss and other `building-related illnesses+. Previous laboratory research by the Plants and Environmental Quality Group at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) has shown that the `pot plant system+ (plants-and-potting-mix combination) can daily eliminate several times the Australian maximum exposure concentrations of the common VOCs benzene and n-hexane.