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Sensors in Sewers Sniff Out Drugs and Bombs

Posted on November 25, 2013

Sometimes we’re so involved in what’s going on around us that we never stop to think what could be going on beneath us…

Well, €4.5 million European Union funded research programme, Emphasis has revealed to us just exactly what is going on beneath the ground we walk on.

What’s Emphasis about?

Emphasis essentially uses wastewater to detect drug and bomb production. This may sound absurd at first but the system cleverly works so that any trace of home-brewed drugs or explosives raises an alarm that alerts police.  The police then use the necessary equipment, such as their high-resolution sensing unit that can pinpoint the exact location of the criminal activity.

The project is led by analytical chemist Hans Önnerudof the Swedish Defence Research Agency in north of Stockholm and Emphasis largely relies on the basis that liquids and gases from bomb or drug production leak into the sewers through our sinks, toilets and baths. And in light of the London bombings back in July 2005, gas leaks have also been proven to escape into the atmosphere as well, as it was detected in the surrounding area and is thought to have leaked through via windows and skylights – even killing garden plants!

How do the sensors actually work?

Each sensor contains 10cm long devises called ion-selective electrodes that when submerged into the wastewater of a sewer can detect the breakdown products of bomb making chemicals or drug extracts by using software that searches for the concentration of the ions. Similarly above ground, infrared lasers are sweeping areas looking to target gas molecules. Although the sensors have not been tested in real life sewers just yet, they have been tested and developed in faeces-rich wastewater and plan to be tested in real sewers next year.

The glitch

The only flaw in this system is that so many products get flushed down our toilets now such as; face wipes, condoms and so on, that sensors will struggle to keep clean themselves and eventually it will reach the point where they cannot function properly anymore.

The pros

Using these sensors provides us with a quick and cheap way to monitor any homemade labs or home-brewed explosives, helping track urban drug habits and deviant criminals, before it has time to become a situation.

The future

Hopefully Emphasis will work together with Lotus (Localisation of Threat Substances in Urban Society) which works in a very similar way to Emphasis, placing mobile sensors in locations to find IED (improvised explosive device) facilities.

So hopefully this new, innovative security measure will keep us all safe and protected from unlawful activity and future criminals, all thanks to our sewage systems – and clever chemists of course!

Contact Wildon UK to find out more about your drainage systems and how we can help you keep them clear!

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