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Sensors 2005, 5, 4-37 sensors

ISSN 1424-8220 © 2005 MDPI http://www.mdpi.org/sensors

Overview of Sensors and Needs for Environmental Monitoring

Clifford K. Ho*, Alex Robinson, David R. Miller and Mary J. Davis

Sandia National Laboratories, P.O. Box 5800, Albuquerque, NM 87185, USA. Tel: (505) 844-2384, Fax: (505) 844-7354.

* Author to whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: ckho@sandia.gov Received: 31 August 2004 / Accepted: 01 December 2004 / Published: 28 February 2005

Abstract: This paper surveys the needs associated with environmental monitoring and longterm environmental stewardship. Emerging sensor technologies are reviewed to identify compatible technologies for various environmental monitoring applications. The contaminants that are considered in this report are grouped into the following categories: (1) metals, (2) radioisotopes, (3) volatile organic compounds, and (4) biological contaminants. United States regulatory drivers are evaluated for different applications (e.g., drinking water, storm water, pretreatment, and air emissions), and sensor requirements are derived from these regulatory metrics. Sensor capabilities are then summarized according to contaminant type, and the applicability of the different sensors to various environmental monitoring applications is discussed.

Keywords: environmental monitoring, sensors, regulatory standards.


Environmental monitoring is required to protect the public and the environment from toxic contaminants and pathogens that can be released into a variety of media including air, soil, and water. Air pollutants include sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and volatile organic compounds, which originate from sources such as vehicle emissions, power plants, refineries, and industrial and laboratory processes. Soil and water contaminants can be classified as microbiological (e.g., coliform), radioactive (e.g., tritium), inorganic (e.g., arsenic), synthetic organic (e.g., pesticides), and volatile organic compounds (e.g., benzene). Pesticide and herbicides are applied directly to plants and soils, and incidental releases of other contaminants can originate from spills, leaking pipes, underground storage tanks, waste dumps, and waste repositories. Some of these contaminants can persist for many years and migrate through large regions of soil until they reach water resources, where they may present an ecological or human-health threat.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) has imposed strict regulations on the concentrations of many environmental contaminants in air and water. However, current monitoring methods are costly and time-intensive, and limitations in sampling and analytical techniques exist. For example, Looney and Falta [ 1] report that the Department of Energy (DOE) Savannah River Site requires manual collection of nearly 40,0 groundwater samples per year, which can cost between $100 to $1,0 per sample for off-site analysis. Wilson et al. [ 2] report that as much as 80% of the costs associated with site characterization and cleanup of a Superfund site can be attributed to laboratory analyses. In addition, the integrity of the off-site laboratory analyses can be compromised during sample collection, transport, storage, and analysis, which can span several days or more. Clearly, a need exists for accurate, inexpensive, long-term monitoring of environmental contaminants using sensors that can be operated on site or in situ. However, the ability to deploy and use emerging sensors for these applications is uncertain due to both cultural and technological barriers.

The purpose of this report is to assess the needs of long-term environmental monitoring applications in the U.S. and to summarize the capabilities of emerging sensor technologies (with an emphasis on Sandia-developed sensor technologies). A market survey is presented that elucidates the costs, drivers, and potential benefits of using in-situ sensors for long-term environmental monitoring. Regulatory metrics for different environmental monitoring applications are then presented to provide requirements for the sensor technologies. Emerging sensor technologies that are being developed at Sandia National Laboratories are then evaluated that can be used to monitor environmental contaminants, particularly for long-term environmental stewardship. We limit our focus to four categories of contaminants: (1) metals, (2) radioisotopes, (3) volatile organic compounds, and (4) biological contaminants. For each contaminant, we seek portable sensors that can provide rapid responses (relative to current methods and technologies), ease of operation (for field use), and sufficient detection limits.

Market survey

In 2001, U.S. companies generated $213 billion in environmental industry revenue, with a growth of 2.1% and exports representing 1% of this figure [ 3]. Overall, the environmental industry is in a state of evolution. The U.S. environmental remediation/industrial services markets have topped out

and are projected to decline. A decline in hazardous waste management funding continues with a trend that began in 1993. Returns on investment in hazardous waste remediation technologies have been low for some time and the DOE continues to be the largest funding source within the U.S. for the site remediation market.

A 15% growth in the overall environmental industry is forecasted as the combination of two major groups. The first group is comprised of energy and water that is projected to experience growth ranging from 19% to over 250% during the first decade of the 21st century [ 3]. The second group consists of compliance, remediation and waste management that are projected to decline 13% to 49% during the same timeframe. The first group is driven by economics and basic human needs while the second group is driven by regulations and enforcement.

The two best performing environmental industry segments are also the best performers over the past decade: clean energy systems/power (+16%) and process/pollution prevention technology (+9%). Clean energy systems/power ($10.0 b) accounted for 65% of the overall market growth in dollars. Process and pollution prevention technology have annual revenues of $1.3 billion. Continued growth of clean energy/power and process/pollution prevention technologies are projected.

Instrument technology is a $3.8 billion dollar industry and has experienced an annual growth rate of approximately 4%. The U.S. water industry – made up of water utilities ($30.9 b), wastewater treatment works ($28.8 b), and water equipment/chemicals ($20.3 b) accounts for 38% of the environmental industry revenues. Solid waste management ($40.8 b), air pollution control equipment ($18.3 b) and consulting/engineering ($18.0 b) are also major contributors to the environmental industry revenue stream.

In the present DOE Environmental Management (EM) market, technology investments are not occurring on a scale that is likely to make major cost and schedule differences. EM is focusing its resources on actual clean-ups and site closures and not on technology innovations. Low interest in technologies increases the difficulty in finding willing investors. Investors are likely to be wary of any growth potential in a market that has an environmental connotation. However, technologies that have a specific need that saves money can be successful. Technological improvements in excavation, transportation, disposal, analytical services, robotics, sample preparation, field sampling, and monitoring are examples of areas where technological improvements could be successful [ 4].

Data Quality Objectives (DQOs) must be considered as part of technology development and a focus should be made on the most urgent problems, such as situations where contaminants are in contact with groundwater. Regulator involvement in new technology development and acceptance of technologies is also very important [ 4].

Science and technology needs include methods of detection, analysis, remote sensing, and data transmission. A technology-needs analysis determined that the most important needs for analytical capabilities were the use of fieldable instrumentation for organic compounds in water/soil/air and for Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) metals in water/soil [ 4]. It was further noted that a leap in technology would occur when the performance of the field instruments more closely approaches that of laboratory-based instruments. A potential application in long-term monitoring and stewardship is in the area of performance monitoring of water to address current technical uncertainties [ 5]. Additionally, information is needed to determine if ambient conditions change significantly enough over the long term to diminish the effectiveness of the remedy.

Based on information gathered in equipment user surveys, an analysis of the market for environmental field instrumentation determined that field instrumentation has been expanding due to cost savings from on-site analysis and improved regulatory and customer acceptance of on-site methods [ 6]. The environmental field instrument market is expected to enjoy an average growth of 7% annually for the foreseeable future. The market will expand with technology developments and increasing regulatory acceptance. However, given the current regulatory environment, field instruments may never completely replace laboratory analysis, and therefore never realize its maximum market potential.

Remediation opportunities will wane and be replaced with smaller, longer-term opportunities related to post-closure monitoring and long-term stewardship. This should open doors to new instruments and measurement technologies and remote information management systems. The market consists of many niche applications, which are met by a number of different technologies. The longterm nature of post-closure monitoring and surveillance will be required at a wide variety of nuclear sites, uranium mill tailing sites, low-level and mixed-waste burial grounds, and hazardous waste sites that may create new areas for application. This market overlaps with other markets, such as for chemical industry process monitoring. Technology developments that can crosscut multiple areas within the environmental industry have a greater potential for success within the industry.

Long-term stewardship is not unique to the DOE. The EPA is currently determining its stewardship responsibilities through its Federal Facilities Restoration and Reuse Office. Both EPA Region IV and X have released policy documents on the use of institutional controls at Federal facilities. However, the specific ways in which long-term institutional control issues are implemented vary considerably at state and local offices. The Department of Defense (DoD) conducts cleanup activities at more than 10,0 sites, nearly 2,0 military installations and more than 9,0 formerly used defense properties. The Department of Interior (DoI) is responsible for overseeing approximately 13,0 former mining sites, some of which have been abandoned by the original owners. The nation’s commitment is also not limited to federal properties. For example, sanitary and hazardous landfills, industrial facilities, and former waste management operations likely require long-term monitoring that will be funded by state and local governments.

The DOE conducts its stewardship activities in compliance with applicable laws, regulations, and inter-agency agreements. In general the DOE is required to implement some land-use controls at waste disposal facilities in perpetuity. Groundwater-monitoring timeframes are expected to be 30 years or greater. Costs of post-cleanup stewardship activities are currently unknown. However, a DOE Office of Inspector General audit found that the “DOE groundwater monitoring activities were not being conducted economically as they could have been since some sites had not adopted innovative technologies and approaches to well installations, sampling operations, and laboratory analysis.” The report concluded that in part this occurred because innovative groundwater monitoring techniques were either unavailable or had not been effectively disseminated, evaluated for applicability at other sites and implemented” [ 7]. In summary, the development of sensors for long-term groundwater monitoring may fill a niche that could have a wide-ranging application for long-term environmental monitoring.

Regulatory requirements, standards and policies Drinking water

National Primary Drinking Water Regulations apply to public water systems and are legally enforceable standards. These primary standards are intended to protect public health by limiting the levels of contaminants that can be found in drinking water. Although these standards are applicable to public water systems (i.e., at the tap), they are often applied by remediation regulators in the aquifer (i.e., at the monitoring wellhead). The following tables (Tab. 1 to Tab. 6) summarize the drinking water standards imposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Additional information regarding potential health impacts and sources of contamination can also be found at their web site http://www.epa.gov/safewater/mcl.html

Table 1. EPA national primary drinking water standards for microorganisms.


Maximum Contaminant

Level Goal (mg/L)

Maximum Contaminant Level (mg/L)

Cryptosporidium zero See footnote* Giardia lamblia zero See footnote* Heterotrophic plate count n/a See footnote* Legionella zero See footnote* Total Coliforms (including fecal coliform and E. Coli) zero 5.0%** Turbidity n/a See footnote* Viruses (enteric) zero See footnote*

*EPA's surface water treatment rules require systems using surface water or ground water under the direct influence of surface water to (1) disinfect their water, and (2) filter their water or meet criteria for avoiding filtration so that the following contaminants are controlled at the following levels:

• Cryptosporidium (as of1/1/02 for systems serving >10,0 and 1/14/05 for systems serving <10,0) 9% removal. • Giardia lamblia: 9.9% removal/inactivation.

• Legionella: No limit, but EPA believes that if Giardia and viruses are removed/inactivated, Legionella will also be controlled.

• Turbidity: At no time can turbidity (cloudiness of water) go above 5 nephelolometric turbidity units (NTU); systems that filter must ensure that the turbidity go no higher than 1 NTU (0.5 NTU for conventional or direct filtration) in at least 95% of the daily samples in any month. As of January 1, 2002, turbidity may never exceed 1 NTU, and must not exceed 0.3 NTU in 95% of daily samples in any month.

• Long Term Enhanced Surface Water Treatment (Effective Date: January 14, 2005): Surface water systems or (GWUDI) systems serving fewer than 10,0 people must comply with the applicable Long Term 1 Enhanced Surface Water Treatment Rule provisions (e.g., turbidity standards, individual filter monitoring, Cryptosporidium removal requirements, updated watershed control requirements for unfiltered systems).

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