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New technology will improve environmental monitoring: The AutoSPAN project tracks PFAS contamination in real time

The AutoSPAN research project will tackle PFAS pollution and create a more sustainable future for our aquatic environment.

By Sune Holst, , 12/4/2023

"PFAS pollution is a challenging global issue and we need innovative solutions to protect our aquatic environment. The AutoSPAN project combines advanced technology and collaboration between university and industrial partners to deliver an effective water quality monitoring solution. Our goal is to create a technological solution that can identify and manage PFAS contamination quickly and efficiently. "

This is according to Assistant Professor Casper Kunstmann from the Mads Clausen Institute at SDU in Sønderborg. The researcher is leading the AutoSPAN project, which aims to develop an automated sampling device that enables authorities to track PFAS contamination in real time.

The technology could be crucial in addressing the challenges that have so far required manual sampling with long response times.

"This will allow authorities to take necessary measures at ultra-short notice and protect our water resources," adds Casper Kunstmann.

Forever chemicals that are harmful to health
PFAS are an extensive group of man-made chemical substances that gradually accumulate in both humans and the environment. They are known as ‘forever chemicals’. The chemicals have been shown to cause all sorts of illnesses, such as liver damage, thyroid disease, obesity, fertility problems and cancer.

PFAS compounds can contaminate drinking water and surface water, potentially exposing humans and ecosystems to health risks. These substances can leach into groundwater from places where they have been used or discharged, such as fire training areas or places where firefighting agents containing PFAS have been used. This is where the AutoSPAN project comes into play.

"Rainwater can wash PFAS from contaminated areas and transport them to waterways, lakes and groundwater. This can increase the spread of PFAS contamination and affect water quality over larger areas. It is especially in this context that our technological solution will be beneficial. It must be able to identify PFAS contamination quickly and efficiently so that authorities can react to it immediately," explains Casper Kunstmann.

The project is expected to deliver not only reliable and repeatable sample collections, but also faster field tests that will provide authorities with a broader knowledge base to develop effective clean-up and remediation solutions. Casper Kunstmann is supported by the head of the 'Nanophotonics' group at the Mads Clausen Institute, Associate Professor Jacek Fiutowski:

"As it is now, an employee from VandCenter Syd has to go out and collect samples at a certain interval, e.g. once a week or once a month, after which they send the sample to a laboratory and wait for the results. In the project, we will develop an early warning system, so that employees are notified that there may be some interesting values that they should come and take a look at," explains the researcher.

Fact box
The AutoSPAN project brings together experts in microfluidics, hardware and software, photonic sensor technology and analytical chemistry. The collaboration between the Faculty of Engineering, VandCenter Syd and CPHNano A/S ensures a holistic approach to solving the complex challenges of PFAS pollution.

Editing was completed: 04.12.2023