Funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is enabling a Drexel University professor to wrap up five years of research into a new device that can rapidly detect a harmful class of toxins that threatens drinking water. EPA announced the $599,999 grant to Drexel University at a campus event Sept. 29.
Drexel Professor Raj Mutharasan is the principal researcher and developer of an ultra-sensitive device capable of detecting, within minutes, the presence of cyanotoxins in rivers, lakes and streams used for drinking water. Cyanotoxins is a class of bacteria linked to fish kills, kidney problems and cancer.
"Drexel's research strengthens our ability to protect the public's health," said Donald S. Welsh, EPA's mid-Atlantic regional administrator. "Because of Professor Mutharasan's work, the people who are on the front lines ensuring safe drinking water will one day be even better equipped."
Mutharasan likened the value of his work to the technological advancement and health breakthroughs gained by the invention of blood glucose monitoring devices. Like those commercially available devices, his project would make it possible to get an accurate measurement, easily and rapidly without laboratory analysis.
“The ability to measure cyanotoxins at levels almost a billion-fold lower and at low cost provides a great capability for our officials in charge of safe water supply,” said Mutharasan, who expects to complete the project in about three years.
His goal is to get the device commercially manufactured to help prevent potentially widespread damage caused by cyanotoxins. Mutharasan's technology would allow water test results in 10 to 15 minutes, whereas the existing method to test for cyanotoxins can take up to three days, leaving communities open to exposure to contaminated water.