A three-year Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) for a hand-held device to detect lead in drinking water has been awarded the highest grade possible by Innovate UK, the UK’s innovation agency. The partnership, between Manchester Metropolitan University and Aquacheck Engineering, which began in January 2019, has been independently evaluated and achieved an “outstanding” grading by the agency. This corresponds to the team having over-delivered on the original objectives of the project.
The partners sought to develop an inexpensive rapid-sensing device for evaluating the concentration of lead in drinking water. This has led to an easy-to-use, robust, handheld device with a high level of accuracy and exceptional low-level detection limits.
Lead in drinking water can seriously impact human health, especially in young children, where even low levels of exposure have been linked to damage to the nervous system and learning disabilities. The presence of lead is mostly due to legacy use of the metal in plumbing and distribution systems, and almost a quarter of the 25 million domestic properties in England & Wales is estimated to have some lead in the supply network.
The cost of wholesale replacement of those pipes is calculated at around £7 billion, and the risk of exposure to lead through drinking water represents a considerable challenge for the rest of the world too. The US Environmental Protection Agency estimates that there are between six and 10 million lead service lines in use across the country.
The main objective of the partnership between Aquacheck and Manchester Metropolitan University was to develop a next generation screen-printed sensor device to quantify lead presence in tap water in domestic properties. The research combined electrochemistry, chemistry, advanced manufacture and internet of things research, which had not been previously applied to a handheld water sensing solution.
Professor Craig Banks, head of research and knowledge exchange in the faculty of science and engineering at Manchester Metropolitan University, said, “It has been a pleasure working with Aquacheck Engineering to realise a difference in the water industry that is grounded within our fundamental electrochemical research.”
The new device is designed for use by contractors, builders and water companies, and can help water service providers meet the new EU standard on lead in tap water of 5 parts per billion (ppb) by 2030.
Paul Carrington, managing director of Aquacheck Engineering, which is based in Rochdale, said, “Aquacheck has been on the most extraordinary journey since we started working with Manchester Met. Access to the laboratory facilities and expertise at the university, combined with our own manufacturing plant and experience working with water utilities has vastly expanded what has been possible to produce.
“This disposable handheld sensor for lead detection is a huge leap from current services and technologies, which require expensive and complex laboratory analysis. We are very excited about the next phase and we’re already in conversations with utilities, municipalities and government bodies around the world.”