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Fish used to detect water contaminants

By measuring changes in fish behavior, communities can detect a wide range of chemicals in water supplies. Fish are natural integrators of water quality conditions and respond to a wide range of unsuspected toxic chemicals or chemical mixtures.

Blue Gills, those tiny, common fish called Sunfish in many local ponds and lakes, are used in this sophisticated water monitoring system because they are sensitive to a wide variety of pollutants. They are highly attuned to chemical disturbances in their environment, and when exposed to toxins, they experience the fish version of coughing, flexing their gills to expel unwanted particles.

This real-time, early-warning biomonitoring system, originally developed and prototyped by the US Army Center for Environmental Health Research. iABS is designed to detect potentially toxic events by measuring changes in fish behavior. San Francisco's water system uses bluegills to guard the drinking water from substances such as cyanide, diesel fuel, mercury and pesticides.

Unlike a canary that was a simple organic system that sang or didn't... the fish monitoring system developed for today's complex chemical soup is more electronic and more complicated.

This modern "canary" is used at water treatment plants and other water production facilities for monitoring water pollutants.

The IAC 1090 – Intelligent Aquatic BioMonitoring System® developed by Intelligent Automation Corporation in Southern California, is web enabled and designed for remote monitoring and control. An automated water chemistry multiprobe is used to track parameters such as temperature and dissolved oxygen that may affect fish ventilatory behavior. Laboratory tests have shown that the iABS responds within an hour to most chemicals at acutely toxic levels.

The iABS monitors fish behavior using a pair of non-contact electrodes mounted above and below each of eight bluegills. As the fish move in the chamber and ventilate their gills, muscle contractions generate electrical signals in the water that are monitored by a computer. When abnormal fish behavior is identified, the iABS provides immediate alarm notification and can start an automated water sampler to permit follow-up chemical analysis.

Why use an animal for complex testing...There's no computer that's as sophisticated as a living being.

Source: Intelligent Automation Corporation