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July 31st, 2014
According to a report from the University of Adelaide in Australia, chemical engineering researchers have developed a new ultra-sensitive, low-cost and portable system for detecting mercury in environmental water. The findings were recently published in the journal ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces. The new technology is based on an optical sensing system that can detect low levels of mercury. The researchers commented on the importance of detecting mercury, noting that the naturally occurring element has accumulated in water supplies at an accelerated rate due to global industrialization. Depending on the level of exposure, mercury can cause harm the brain, heart, kidneys, lungs, and immune system, and exposure is particularly harmful to babies in the womb and young children, even at lower levels, compared to adults. "Recently, these concerns have seen the introduction of a global convention aimed at controlling, monitoring and reducing mercury pollution at a world scale. "There are current systems capable of monitoring mercury at trace levels, but they are huge machines that can't be easily moved, are very expensive and complicated to use and require comprehensive training. Samples also require chemical treatment before analysis. In the report, the researchers noted that their system "is very cost-competitive, only as big as a mobile phone, and easy to use. With very basic training, someone could take it to a river or lake and do a mercury reading on the spot."