Low-Cost Instrument for Long-Term Monitoring of Hazardous Contaminants in Drinking Water

EPA Contract Number: EPD07040
Title: Low-Cost Instrument for Long-Term Monitoring of Hazardous Contaminants in Drinking Water
Investigators: Ford, John Chetley
Current Investigators: Steinback, Mark
Small Business: Radiation Monitoring Devices Inc.
EPA Contact: Manager, SBIR Program
Phase: I
Project Period: March 1, 2007 through August 31, 2007
Project Amount: $70,000
RFA: Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) - Phase I (2007) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: SBIR - Homeland Security , Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) , SBIR - Water and Wastewater


The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has stated a need for technologies and instruments to monitor and warn of the presence of toxic contaminants in drinking water. An innovative device that could detect, identify, and localize hazardous chemical contaminants in drinking water would be immensely valuable to water utility operators, emergency response personnel, and other decision-making officials charged with protecting the nation’s water supply from terrorist acts.

Radiation Monitoring Devices, Inc. (RMD) proposes to design and build a miniature, permanent magnet-based nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectrometer that can be lowered into drinking water systems. NMR utilizes the same technologies as those used to scan the human body in clinical magnetic resonance imaging machines, and uses no harmful radiation. NMR proton spectra will provide continuous, precise, and specific monitoring of the water concentration of substances such as pesticides, toxic industrial chemicals, chemical warfare agents, and bioaccumulative metal-based and organic toxins, such as mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls. NMR signal sensitivity will be enhanced several orders of magnitude by using nano-scale solid-state sensors rather than conventional wire radiofrequency coils.

A major advantage of the technical approach is that because it is NMR-based, any number of chemical compounds can be simultaneously monitored without modification to the hardware or software. A number of these low-cost systems, wirelessly connected to a central computer, can be deployed at various strategic sites within a drinking water facility. Time-sequenced maps of contaminant concentrations, overlaid on a facility map, can serve to pinpoint the source of contaminant release, affording timely information to alert emergency response personnel.

During Phase I, RMD will design and build a bench-top NMR spectrometer that will serve as a test bed to develop innovative solid-state sensors that provide extraordinary sensitivity. The outcome of Phase I will be an optimized NMR sensor as well as the most advantageous NMR data collection parameters for measuring trace contaminants in water. The knowledge gained from the Phase I effort will lead to a Phase II prototype capable of unprecedented capabilities in long-term monitoring of drinking water contaminants at very low cost.

The Phase II prototype would find many applications within the commercial sector, including the petroleum industry for oil well logging and for monitoring of contaminants in storage facilities. Likewise, it could be utilized in the manufacturing industry to monitor groundwater in or around manufacturing facilities. Finally, the instrument would find numerous screening and monitoring applications within the agricultural sector and food industry.

Supplemental Keywords:

small business, SBIR, EPA, drinking water, contaminants in drinking water, nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometry, homeland security, drinking water and wastewater security,, RFA, Scientific Discipline, Water, Environmental Monitoring, Drinking Water, homeland security, nuclear magnetic resonance, biological agents of concern, drinking water monitoring, early warning

Progress and Final Reports:

  • Final Report