Sensors that rapidly screen and detect hazardous contaminants in and around a mining site are now available.
Affordable and made locally, the sensors are used to determine what appropriate actions to take and, more importantly in cases of remediation, whether the treatment that was applied was adequate or not.
Whether an action taken is appropriate or note is currently problematic in most remediation programs, according to researchers who developed the sensors.
Low-cost, mobile and nanotechnology-based, the electronic sensors were developed by scientists from the Ateneo de Manila University, University of the Philippines Diliman Institute of Chemistry, and the University of Santo Tomas. Research and development was funded by the Philippine Council for Industry, Energy and Emerging Technology Research and Development of Department of Science and Technology.
At the Ateneo de Manila, the interdisciplinary team is composed of biologists, eco toxicologists, chemists, medical practitioners, material science experts and engineers from the School of Science and Engineering. The research team from Ateneo is headed by Dr. Emilyn Q. Espiritu.
Together with colleagues at the collaborating universities, they developed an R&D framework that tapped rapid advances in nano- and mobile technologies. The mobile sensors developed can be deployed on-site to monitor water quality and samples of water, soil, sediment and other data. The information generated by the sensors – such as spectral and color intensity – can be communicated via mobile phones to a cloud storage and processing system. The processed information is subsequently relayed back to users via an on-site display boards, a dedicated website and cellular phones.
The sensors serve as valuable tools for communities, regulatory agencies, researchers, the mining industry and stakeholders. Using the sensors promotes responsible mining and monitors compliance to health and environment regulations.
Visiting small-scale mining activities at the Acupan River in Itogon, Benguet, the Ateneo Mining Sensors team samples river water to obtain information on water quality and the presence of mercury and arsenic. They found, for example, that small-scale miners process the ores right in their own backyard, resulting in significant amounts of mercury and arsenic in the river.
They field tested components of the electronic water quality sensors in the Acupan River. For processing and analysis, data obtained from the sensors were transmitted via cell phones to a remote server. The information was relayed back to the site where it was posted on a display boards for the benefit of the local government, regulatory agencies and members of the mining community.
Traditionally, the monitoring of environmental parameters relied heavily on the use of either laboratory or field equipment, most of the devices manufactured abroad. While the data obtained from these devices provide quick results, majority of the information that is generated either takes some time or requires more processing before any meaningful conclusions can be made.
The cost of these imported devices in general is quite prohibitive. In dire situations requiring immediate assessments, many of the devices fail to provide a “quick response” for emergency teams.
The local sensors developed by Filipino scientists respond or give answers a lot more quickly. The sensors are important because, as of 2005, approximately P366 billion worth of investments from 24 priority mining sites had been approved by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau. The Philippines is ranked No. 5 in mineral resources worldwide, mainly for its gold and copper reserves. Some 9 million hectares of the country have significant mineral deposits.
Finding the right balance between a healthy environment and economic progress is a must. Innovate technologies may yet strike the balance.
By: Emilyn Q. Espiritu Ateneo de Manila University Published by: Department of Science and Technology-Science and Technology Information Institute (DOST-STII)