New Test Technique Measures Light to Gauge Toxicity

System developed for UK military now available to water companies in America

Infrastructure Security Article June 16, 2002
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The world is a different place today than it was just a few
months ago. Things that were once taken for granted – working in
high-rise buildings, uneventful airline trips, opening the mail – have
become beacons for safety concerns. For better or for worse, public water
supplies have joined the expanding list of venues where security has become a
growing and very public issue.

Granted, security measures do exist to safeguard our public water supply. Utilities routinely employ techniques such as chlorination, filtration, and ultraviolet treatment, to name a few. However, given the changes that have taken place in the world since September 11, 2001, the prospect for intentional contamination seems more possible than ever before. Hundreds of potential contaminants in a variety of forms could be introduced to the water supply. We want to have confidence that our existing security measures and analytics are adequate but with so many possibilities, how can we?

That’s why Severn Trent Services (
has made the Eclox™ Rapid Response Water Testing System available to
public utilities. The system uses a luminometer to detect the presence of toxic
substances in water, with full results available in as little as 30 minutes.
Considering the implications of contaminated water on the general public, a
30-minute turn-around can be a lifesaver.

The system can be used to test for phenols, heavy metals,
cyanide, pesticides, arsenic, even nerve agents, and numerous other
contaminants, including urine and feces. It can also test for pH, conductivity,
and for the presence of an acceptable chlorine level. The system, neatly
compact in a briefcase-like housing, was originally developed by Severn Trent
for military purposes in conjunction with the Nuclear, Biological and Chemical
team of the United Kingdom Defense Procurement Agency. The science is based on
original research conducted at the University of Birmingham in the United
Kingdom. Prototypes were tested in the UK by the Ministry of Defence and by the
United States Soldier Biological & Chemical Command (SBCCOM) in 2000, and
production models went into use earlier this year.

Eclox uses a technique called Chemiluminescence to test
water. This technique measures the generation of light from a chemical reaction
when specific chemicals are mixed in water. The level of light generated in a
sample is dependent on the quality of the water. Therefore this technique can
be used as an indicator of water quality. It was also discovered that as the
light-producing chemicals included an enzyme and an oxidant, the reaction was
generally much more sensitive to those contaminants which tend to disrupt
biological processes, i.e. those which are toxic.

The main test instrument is the luminometer, which gives a
generic indication of the toxicity or potability of the water sample. Test
results are presented in a simple and easy-to-understand form, therefore making
it possible for field engineers to get “up to speed” on the unit
quickly. The luminometer displays light emission curves and percentage
inhibition values. Eclox does not directly measure bacteriological
contamination. However, where this has occurred due, for example, to sewage
being in the water, the Eclox will sensitively detect the chemical constituents
of sewage waste.

The Eclox Rapid Response Water Testing System was honored
recently by a panel of judges of the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE)
Awards for Excellence in Safety and the Environment in Europe. In declaring a
special award for Eclox, one of the judges commented, “it could save more
lives than the rest of the competition entries put together.” Severn
Trent Services also received, for Eclox, the prestigious IWEX Innovation Award
at this year’s International Water Exhibition in Birmingham, UK.

As of December 2001, the Eclox units became available to
water companies serving the American public.

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