DCU leading new €2m investigation into canal and river pollution

1 Aug 2017

Canals in Dublin. Image: fabiolabia/Shutterstock

How contaminated are our seas, rivers and canals? Thanks to EU funding, Dublin City University could be about to find out.

Dublin City University (DCU) is orchestrating a new €2m project to measure chemical contaminants in coastal and transitional waterways.

This will see research teams from all over Europe managed from DCU, with the development of new technologies to provide a greater range of water analysis the key goal.

Dr Blanaid White, assistant professor in the School of Chemical Sciences at DCU, and DCU Water Institute, will direct the project, called Monitool, with the funding coming through Interreg Europe.

Pollution, or essential nutrients?

“Metals are essential nutrients for marine life off our coasts, but too high a concentration can be toxic,” said White.

“This project will allow us to monitor these metal concentrations in coastal waters by using diffusive gradient thin films (DGT) so that if contamination occurs, we will be able to detect it.”

Detecting and monitoring the level of contaminants, particularly chemicals and substances of emerging concern in seawater and inland waterways, is a key element of the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD).

WFD aims to ensure national governments take action to improve the quality of their water in rivers, lakes, estuaries and coastal waterways.

At present, testing for contaminants in coastal waters and ensuring detection of a wider range is extremely challenging. The Monitool project has been devised in response to this.

“Monitool will create an expert marine lab network for DGT sampling, which spans the Atlantic coast, from the Scottish Highlands to the Canary Islands, and DCU are delighted to be at the heart of this network,” said White.

Time to Acclimatize

It’s the second such project to be led by an Irish institution this year, after University College Dublin (UCD) was chosen to head a €6.7m project to identify sources of pollution and its impact on bathing waters as a result of climate change.

Called Acclimatize, the ultimate aim is to improve the quality of sea shores in both countries, helping to boost tourism and support marine activities.

The Acclimatize project will focus on bathing waters, including Dublin Bay and Cemaes Bay in Anglesey, and other beaches. Real-time models will be developed to inform the effects of climate change through altered weather patterns, affecting rainfall, temperature and tides, which impact on coastal areas.

Prof Wim Meijer of the UCD School of Biomolecular and Biomedical Science claims that the study will help to develop management systems to better protect beaches and water.

“This will support economic growth through improved water quality, which will lead to a range of benefits, such as increased tourism and shellfish harvesting in Ireland and Wales,” he said.

Pollution is an obvious problem, and the depths of the planet’s woes are continually plunging.

For example, a recent study spanning the depths of Earth’s oceans found that two of the deepest parts of the Pacific Ocean are home to man-made pollutants.

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic