Military personnel face the possibility of drinking water exposures to a wide range of toxic industrial or agricultural chemicals as a result of accidental spills or deliberate chemical contamination of water. Unfortunately, rapid detection capabilities for toxic chemicals in water are limited and may not provide sufficient warning of developing toxic hazards.
With support from an Army Science and Technology Objective (STO), USACEHR developed an aquatic biomonitor (available commercially as the Intelligent Aquatic Biomonitor System, or iABS) that detects potentially toxic events by measuring changes in fish behavior. Fish are natural integrators of water quality conditions and can respond to a wide range of unsuspected toxic chemicals or chemical mixtures. The iABS can be used at water treatment plants and other water production facilities for monitoring source waters. Product water can be evaluated after the water is dechlorinated.
The iABS monitors fish behavior using pairs of electrodes mounted above and below each of eight bluegills. As the fish move in the chamber and ventilate their gills, muscle contractions generate electrical signals in the water that are monitored by a computer. An expert system identifies abnormal fish behavior, and the computer provides immediate alarm notification and can start an automated water sampler to permit follow-up chemical analysis. Two-way communication allows remote monitoring and control of computer operation. An automated water chemistry multiprobe is used to track parameters such as temperature and dissolved oxygen that may affect fish ventilatory behavior. Laboratory tests have shown that the iABS responds within an hour to most chemicals at acutely toxic levels.
Field testing has demonstrated the usefulness of the iABS in a range of applications, including drinking water protection, watershed monitoring, and effluent monitoring.