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Sensors in sewers could locate bomb-makers


November 1, 2013

There's bomb-making residue in them thar sewers – and EMPHASIS may be able to tell where it's coming from (Photo: Shutterstock)

There's bomb-making residue in them thar sewers – and EMPHASIS may be able to tell where it's coming from (Photo: Shutterstock)

When people make improvised explosive devices (IEDs), many of the waste products end up simply going down the drain. With that in mind, the European Union-funded EMPHASIS consortium is now developing technology to track those chemicals within the waste stream, so that their point of origin can be located.

Here's how the EMPHASIS system would work ...

A network of electrochemical water-sampling sensors would be placed at regular intervals within a municipal sewer system, along with above-ground air-sampling sensors. When any of these devices detected suspicious concentrations of water- or airborne compounds used in the building of IEDs, an alert would be sent to a central command center.

Personnel at that center would note the general location of the reporting sensors, then remotely access additional sensors in that same area, in order to narrow down the possible originating points of those chemicals. From there, mobile field units would be sent out to the vicinity, using portable sensing equipment to pinpoint the bomb-makers' exact location.

The system could conceivably also be used to find meth labs, or other locations where illicit drugs were being synthesized.

According to a report in New Scientist, the water-sampling sensors have already been tested in "feces-rich" water in a lab setting, with plans calling for testing in real sewers to take place next year.

Source: EMPHASIS via New Scientist

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

NSA, not only spying on your internet and phone, but also spying what you dump in your toilet. Have a awesome deep smell of mine !

Shahin Mokhtar Moshfeghi

That's hilarious! Not a bad idea. Another idea, do "sniff" tests of garbage trucks. What doesn't get flushed will probably get thrown out in the rubbish. The same sensor could perhaps identify not just bomb making materials but maybe also toxic or improper wastes being dumped.


The problem with these efforts is that, once it becomes well known that these sensors are down there, anyone who researches and knows how to make a bomb will also become well aware of this also, and simple not put the chemicals down the drain, there are lots of ways of getting rid of chemicals if you had to... going down the drain is just the most convenient.

The airborne sensors though is a good idea, and i think even both are good ideas if they would be used for environmental monitoring, not so much in testing natural parameters but testing for polluting in the same way a bomb maker would do making a bomb, but used a more general way to monitor any kind of environmental pollution in significant quantities... who knows what kind of pollution is happening on a regular basis from possible sources overlooked.

Also last minute thought, the air sensors could be beat by making a bomb inside somewhere that simply has a airpump/filter.... fresh air gets sucked in, bad air gets filtered on the way out, the air pumping will cause a negative pressure inside which would not let anything to escape from anywhere... windows.. doors.. cracks, only fresh air comes in.


Wow, talk about a huge waste of money!

Elmar Moelzer

Rendered useless before being deployed by advertising it unless they are looking for meth cookers.


Gee, it's a good thing that bombmaker never use the internet. Otherwise, they know to just bag up their discards and toss them into a dumpster mile away.

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