Environmental Scientists Use Fish Behavior To Monitor Water Quality
March 1, 2007
— Researchers are using bluegills to detect industrial and agricultural
spills in water supplies. Changes in the environment cause the fishes’
behavior and breathing patterns to change. Electrodes are placed inside
the tanks that contain the fish and water from a nearby water supply,
and they set off an alarm if conditions inside the tank change.
Do you know where your water comes from? Tap water comes from many
different sources. Before it gets to the faucet, tater treatment plants
clean up water from lakes, rivers and reservoirs, but it can still get
contaminated by industrial and agricultural spills.
Lt. Col. Matt Schofield, an environmental scientist at the U.S. Army
Center for Environmental Health Research in Fort Detrick, Md., says,
"Everybody drinks water, and the question of whether or not there’s a
contaminant or a toxic substance in the water is very real."
According to U.S. Army Center for Environmental Health Research
biologist Tom Shedd, when there are changes in water quality, there are
changes in fish behavior.
Now to help make sure your water is safe, environmental scientists
are using something that lives in the water to monitor it closely —
fish! In a new early warning system called IAC 1090 or the "intelligent
Aquatic BioMonitoring System," bluegills are signal of toxins in our
Eight fish sit in chambers submersed in water from a nearby water
supply. If pollutants are present, the fish will change their breathing
patterns. Electrodes in each chamber monitor any changes. If six fish
are stressed, an alarm goes off.
Shedd says at that moment they don’t necessarily know what is the
contaminant or the stressor to the fishes, but you know that it’s
there. The fish have reacted to two farming spills. Officials were able
to prevent any toxins from getting into drinking water.
To protect the fish, each fish is replaced with a newer, younger
fish after spending three weeks monitoring water supplies. The system,
originally developed by the Army for the Army, is now available
commercially to cities and towns and is currently being used in New
York, San Francisco, and Washington.
"The fish system is a common sense, logical way to monitor for water
quality," Shedd says, helping to keep their water — and yours — safe.
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