On-site testing shines in Japan

A new tool developed by Surrey scientists has been proving its worth investigating contaminated sites in Japan.

The Rapid On-Site Toxicity Audit System (ROTAS) uses light emitting bacteria to test for hazardous chemicals in soil.

The bacteria give out light under normal conditions but when they come into contact with toxins they glow less brightly.

While the use of bioluminescent bacteria to test waste water is a well-established practice, using them to test soils is a relatively new field.

ROTAS was developed by the University of Surrey and licensed to Cybersense Biosystems.

Tim Hart, founder of Cybersense, told edie there was enormous untapped potential in on-site testing.

He said he could potentially carry out 300 samples in a day and have the results almost immediately, rather than wait for samples to be collected, sent off to the lab, analysed and the results returned.

“There are limitations of what it can and can’t be used for but unlike many lab tests it gives the total biological effects,” said Mr Hart.

“When I take my samples I don’t know exactly what the levels are but I have a far better idea of where the contaminants are and what they might be.”

While lab tests are very good for looking at levels of specific chemicals in a sample, it was possible to miss unexpected toxins or even take the sample from the wrong part of a site, Mr Hart told edie.

ROTAS, he said, was often better for looking at the compound effects of a number of contaminants acting together, while most traditional lab tests would look for various pollutants independently of one another.

Also the method could cover the whole site, rather than samples taken from a handful of areas, and while it lacked some of the detail of a lab analysis it gave a far better overview of the whole site.

Mr Hart believes he is battling industry inertia to persuade companies in the UK of the benefits of a combined approach, carrying out both on-site testing and lab testing.

Such an approach could save up to 50% of project costs, he claimed.

“It can have a massive impact,” he said.

Elsewhere in the world, such as the US and parts of Asia, the remediation of brownfield sites is strides ahead of Britain, he claimed.

The Japanese have given ROTAS a glowing report, with Hitachi Chemicals now looking to help Cybersense distribute it throughout South East Asia.

By Sam Bond

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