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New Wireless Sensor Detects Bacterial Beach Contamination

(A. Kotok)

(A. Kotok)

Engineers from an environmental technology company and Johns Hopkins University have developed a wireless, autonomous sensor that can detect E. coli outbreaks at beaches and drinking water sources. The team headed by Jeffrey Talley, president of Environmental Technology Solutions in Gilbert, Arizona and adjunct professor of engineering at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, published its findings online in the journal Environmental Engineering Science.

Current methods to detect Escherichia coli (E. coli), a bacterium that indicates the presence of fecal matter in water, typically require 24 to 48 hours to produce useful results. The automated wireless in-situ sensor (AWISS), the focus of the research, can return E. coli test results in 1 to 8 hours, making it potentially more valuable to public health authorities.

The article describes the AWISS battery-powered device with a prototype optical sensor that can measure changes in fluorescence intensity in a water sample. If E. coli bacteria is present in a water sample, it will generate a reaction from the enzymes in the sensor, releasing fluorophores into solution. The increased fluorescence thus acts as an indicator of E. coli, usually in less than an hour with high concentrations and up to eight hours for lower concentrations.

Tally’s team from Johns Hopkins, Environmental Technology Solutions, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Vicksburg, Mississippi, and Leavenworth, Kansas — Talley is also a Major General in the U.S. Army Reserve — present the results of a seven-day demonstration of a prototype AWISS device. Those tests at the St. Joseph River in South Bend, Indiana show the device’s ability to collect and analyze water samples every 6 hours and send the data collected wirelessly to remote monitoring stations.

The demonstration also compared the AWISS samples to current culture testing methods used by the EPA. Their findings show of the 15 verified AWISS samples, 13 correctly identified the presence or absence of an E. coli concentration defined as significant by the EPA and Indiana state authorities.

Read more: NSF Grant to Fund Savannah River Water Quality Monitors

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