Recovering brownfield land

Scientists in Europe have developed a low-cost instrument that can provide prospective land buyers with an inexpensive, diagnostic tool for the rapid screening of soil in brownfield sites.

Throughout Europe the recovery of abandoned land known as ‘brownfield sites’ is becoming increasingly important. Former industrial or commercial properties where operations may have resulted in environmental contamination, they often impose environmental, legal and financial burdens on the surrounding communities. Left vacant, contaminated sites can threaten the economic viability of adjoining properties.

One obstacle to their re-use is the uncertainty over how blighted the land is, and stakeholders such as local government agencies, industrial owners and developers often hesitate to check this, as current testing methods are time-consuming, inconclusive and expensive.

The UK, Irish, Portuguese and Swedish partners in the EUREKA project E! 2678 SS TESTER have developed a low-cost instrument that can provide prospective buyers with an inexpensive, diagnostic tool for the rapid screening of soils.

“The prototype SST (Safe Soil Tester) is a robust, portable instrument that employs bioluminescent bacteria for the detection of toxic contamination,” explained Ed Bell, MD of the UK lead partner, Crown Bio Systems. “It is easy to use, can test soil and sediment, and is ideal for rapid screening of land for pollutants providing instant results saving lab time and costs.”

The tester harnesses the Eignos navigation system, and in future will use the new Galileo navigation system just launched by the European Space Agency to integrate satellite positioning data with the real time results. Not only does this provide essential georeferencing data to create an auditable trail, but it can also be integrated with GIS (geographic information system) data.

“The tester will increase the likelihood of testing being done on a site that is suspected of contamination,” said Jim Arigho, Business Development Manager of Atlas Ireland. “It can identify hotspots and clean areas, saves time by allowing the extension of the sampling regime at very low cost, and makes it possible to make accurate decisions on the spot.”

The project is expected to be completed in 2004 at a cost of 4.3 million Euros. Global markets are estimated to be 10 billion Euros and work has already started to apply the technology to other diagnostic problems. “We have already embarked on a biosensor for applications in the food and drug development sectors,” says Bell.