Researchers at the University of Birmingham’s School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences have developed the science behind a piece of equipment that can detect water pollution in seconds.

In partnership with scientific instrumentation company, STS Ltd, the team has created a device that takes the ‘lab to the river bank’. Using fluorescence, a natural phenomena whereby certain substances absorb and emit light, organic water pollutants such as sewage, landfill and farm effluents can be detected and their origins identified.

Dr Andy Baker, lead investigator from the University of Birmingham’s School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, says, ‘Originally I was studying the fluorescence of ground water in caves, and I found that a different type of fluorescence is present in river water. We then developed a fluorescence fingerprint for substances found in river water, so that we could identify pollutants.

‘Traditionally tests are lab-based and take up to five days. It is crucial that water samples don’t degrade in the time that it takes to transport them from the river to the lab, so we wanted to develop a device that can be taken to the river bank so that water samples can be examined immediately – we can now take a sample, measure the fluorescence and identify the pollutants. We are effectively taking the lab to the river.

Dr Baker continues, ‘Now I would like to see the device in use in a disaster relief scenario where there is a large number of people and a limited water supply. It is hoped that the device will help to save lives.’

The device will be useful to environmental organisations and businesses who need to self-certify their effluent discharges or detect and quickly identify the source and extent of any water pollution.


Notes to Editors

1. The water pollution detection device has been developed in conjunction with VIN technology services, the gateway to the wide range of technology and expertise that the University of Birmingham can offer as one of the UK’s leading centres of industrial technology research. It will be on display at the VIN stand at ET2006 at the NEC in May.

2. Safe Training Systems Ltd (STS Ltd) is based in Berkshire and specialises in the design and manufacture of instruments for detecting contamination.

3. Research TV - Note to Broadcast Media: Moving footage/interviews are available free of charge as a package to broadcast media via Research TV, due for streaming via APTN on Tuesday 7 March from 12.15-12.30 GMT. Contact for details / to request footage.

For further information

Kate Chapple, Press Office, University of Birmingham, tel 0121 414 2772 or 07789 921164, email: