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Unique biological sensor technology will revolutionise land pollution monitoring
Unique biological sensor technology will revolutionise land pollution monitoring Keywords: Pollution, Biosensors, Contamination, Land
A new company was launched recently to introduce unique biological sensor technology into the expanding world market for the diagnosis and clean-up of polluted land.
Remedios Ltd will market and develop the unique biosensor technology which is expected to revolutionise the detection and identification of land pollution. The technique has been developed over a period of seven years by scientists at the University of Aberdeen.
In a political climate where the use of so-called "brownfield" or vacant urban sites is encouraged, the Remedios service will offer considerable benefits for property owners, prospective purchasers, insurers and regulatory bodies.
Samples of possible contaminated material are taken to the Remedios laboratories where they are placed in the biosensors. The amount of their glow indicates how clean or how toxic the samples are. If it is clean, the sensor literally glows with health. If there is no glow, or the glow is dulled, then the sample is toxic.
Using this unique Remedios technology, diagnosis of contamination and development of a clean-up strategy can usually be carried out in a fraction of the time taken by conventional surveys.
"Because of the potential costs of cleaning up polluted sites – let alone the legal implications – no developer can afford to purchase or build on a site without knowing what is in the ground", says Ian George, Managing Director of Remedios Ltd. "There is, therefore, a need for a quick, reliable and cost-effective test of soil toxicity. Our biosensor technology will satisfy that demand."
The new company brings together the expertise of the scientists who developed the biosensor technology with the skills of property consultants who have wide experience of the construction and development industries.
The University of Aberdeen is a shareholder in Remedios Ltd. Professor C. Duncan Rice, Principal of the University of Aberdeen, said:
Remedios is a wonderful example of the enormous benefits which can result from industry and academic collaboration.
Remedios will provide environmental diagnostics services to industry and other users. This is particularly relevant in the current debate about brownfield site development – Remedios will speed up the process of diagnosis, risk assessment and solutions to contaminated land and, therefore, the decision-making process on planning and development of such sites.
This service has grown out of research undertaken by the university and I am delighted that, with the help of backing from industry, we are able to offer this important service and to create a new company and new jobs for the North East of Scotland.
In addition to land pollution, the biosensor technology can be adapted for use in the offshore oil and gas industry. Sensors have been developed to test, for example, the toxicity of drill cuttings, production waters and biocide residues.
How the Remedios technology works
The Remedios biosensors contain bacteria which produce a biological luminescence under normal conditions. This has been achieved by taking the gene which causes the natural phenomenon of bioluminescence in marine bacteria and inserting it into the biosensor bacteria.
These biosensor organisms are representative of bacterial strains that are found in the environment, as well as those that would be involved in biological clean-up (bioremediation) processes.
When these bacteria are challenged by a sample which has any toxicity which they can absorb (bioavailable toxicity), the light output produced by the bioluminescence will decrease. This decrease is in direct proportion to the level of the toxins, giving a measure of the toxicity of the sample.
The biosensor tests are always carried out under stringent laboratory conditions. The samples are, therefore, always taken to the laboratory and the biosensors never leave the controlled laboratory environment.
Unlike conventional techniques, biosensor technology does not require any prior knowledge of the contaminants likely to be present in the sample. Existing chemical analysis techniques require specific tests for specific chemicals. In practice the chemicals to be tested are normally selected on the basis of the known history of the site. This entails taking a huge number of samples and analysing each one for individual chemical contaminants.
If a particular chemical is not suspected, it is likely that the test for this will be omitted. There is therefore a danger – as demonstrated in one of the pilot studies – of a toxin being missed.
This chemical study process takes considerable time and provides only broad information on the total amount of different toxins in the soil, or water. There is a lack of information on the actual biological impact of the pollution, or the potential activity of microbes which could assist with the removal of the toxins.
As a result, the clean-up proposals tend to centre on the removal of large volumes of potentially-contaminated material from the site and its replacement with clean material.
In addition to its benefits in terms of speed and testing the overall toxicity of a site, the Remedios technique also helps to identify possible biological solutions for the clean-up of the land. Using this information many sites can be remedied without this costly process of removing, disposing and replacing contaminated material.
The Remedios biosensor technology can reveal the presence of ten groups of toxic substances. These include heavy metals, such as lead and mercury, soluble pesticides, corrosive chemicals and explosives. Such is the sensitivity of the biosensor that it can detect heavy metals, for example, in concentrations as low as one part per million.
Tried and tested technology
The Remedios biosensor system has been in development by scientists at the University of Aberdeen since 1992. During its development, the technology has already been successfully tested in a number of sites in the UK and Germany.
At one of the UK sites – the former gas plant and chemical works which are now part of the Scotoil Group site in Aberdeen – the biosensor technology was piloted on an area which was already well documented using conventional soil sample analysis.
Using the biosensor technology Remedios produced their results in 12 days. The accuracy of the biosensors was shown by the fact that the results correlated with those taken over a number of years, using conventional sampling techniques. The biosensors also revealed an unexpected chemical contamination which had not been identified in the traditional surveys.
detection of bioavailability of specific compounds;
analysis of process-specific matrices;
real-time toxicity monitoring;
compliance with environmental legislation;
provision of a quality control mechanism;
optimisation of a treatment process.
Shows how easily plants and animals can assimilate the pollution.
Assesses the potential for biological remediation on-site.
Determines any constraints there could be for on-site biological remediation.
Promotes an effective, logical and focused biological remediation strategy.
Predicts the timescale for biological remediation.
Monitors its efficiency and determines its completion.
The Remedios services
Combining scientific expertise and commercial property consultancy skills, Remedios offers its clients a comprehensive service for redevelopment of "brownfield" sites – previously-occupied urban sites, many of which have been polluted by previous users.
This "one-stop" approach to the clean-up of brownfield land is made possible by the unusual combination of the scientific expertise of the biological sensor developers with the company's strength in property consultancy skills.
Using this combination of skills and experience, Remedios can diagnose pollution on a site and design a clean-up strategy which determines the potential, and accurately predicts the timescale for its completion.
A key feature is that this advice is given against a background of sound property valuation and development expertise. The result is a service designed to realise the maximum value from the site. Clear and easily-interpreted reports, together with detailed data for regulatory use, are provided throughout the process.
The biosensor technology can also simulate alternative biological clean-up (or "bioremediation") strategies, under laboratory conditions. This means that the success and timescale can be predicted in advance.
Toxmonitor is Remedios' rapid monitoring service. It provides information over a period on whether land is toxic and whether levels of toxicity are changing. This makes it a highly effective method of monitoring planned clean-up strategies.
A contaminated site is first screened using the biosensors. Thereafter, focused chemical analysis can be carried out to confirm specific pollutant concentrations.
Toxmonitor is used to:
Determine the progress of a clean-up strategy.
Determine whether a previous clean-up programme is still active.
Confirm or revise the timescale for the successful conclusion of a clean-up programme.
Check suspected contamination from neighbouring sites.
The Remedios Toxmap service screens a site for any compounds which have biological toxicity. Data on the biological hazards are presented on a detailed toxicity map, which is easy to read and interpret. The map is supported by a full report.
The speed of analysis using the biosensor technology and the easily-interpreted reports make Toxmap ideal for a range of property interests:
Owners – where risk assessment is needed prior to disposal or redevelopment.
Purchasers – where pre-purchase diligence and environmental assessment are required.
Contractors – for tender and contract optimisation and on-site monitoring.
Funding institutions – in order to minimise risk in investment in brownfield and other sites where contamination is a possibility.
Insurers – in order that risk is based on hard evidence rather than probability.
Local authorities – where site assessment is needed to comply with obligations under the new contaminated land regulations
Interprotox complements Remedios' Toxmap and Toxmonitor services. It uses an advanced biosensor analysis of samples to identify the class of contaminant which is causing toxicity problems at a site.
Without the Interprotox technology unnecessary and expensive chemical analysis is often needed in an attempt to identify toxic chemical contaminants.
The benefits of Interprotox are:
Rapid analysis and reporting.
Clear and concise information.
Enhanced cost control and forward planning.
Production of information that has environmental relevance.
Restore provides tailor-made clean-up solutions to even the most complex and difficult sites. After initial site screening using Toxmap analysis, the biosensor technology – in combination with a range of sample manipulation regimes – is used to dissect the precise nature of the toxicity. This may be, for example, volatile hydrocarbons, non-volatile hydrocarbons or heavy metals etc. A strategy for site clean-up is then provided.
The sample manipulations are designed to assess the sample, before and after manipulation. This enables Remedios to identify:
the nature of the contaminant;
if it is present as a constraint to biological clean-up;
how the constraint can be alleviated using a procedure on-site.
Troubleshooter is aimed at providing rapid solutions to more complex or unusual clean-up problems. The biosensor technology is utilised to solve remediation problems such as:
establishing why biological clean-up programmes have stopped working and recommending how to recover them;
whether a site is being polluted by a neighbour, identifying sources and pathways for pollution, ensuring that liability can be properly attributed.
Remedios's range of biosensors allows the company to assess the overall toxicity of waste samples generated as part of the offshore oil and gas industry.
This includes sampling procedures to determine the toxicity of drill cuttings, before and after treatment. The biosensor technology can also assess the biological toxicity of other offshore by-products including production waters and biocide residues.
For further information: Ken McEwen, The PR Partnership. Tel: +44 (0) 1224 588900.