Our waters are safe thanks to 10.000 analysis per year

Galician INDROPS company studies the water pollutants and prepares a portable laboratory in order to detect priority substances

Indrops lab analyses waste waters. Source: Agrobiotech/Indrops.
Indrops lab analyses waste waters. Source: Agrobiotech/Indrops.

This company was born from the laboratory of the Submarine Research Center. The laboratory team, with its entire department, separated in 2012 to create what is now INDROPS. They carry out environmental consulting and fundamentally analysis of all types of water: waste, consumption, marine waters, pool … They also analyze soil sediments, waste, and to a lesser extent, food. Their central laboratory is in Santiago de Compostela, but they also have a delegation in Santa Cruz de Tenerife. They are currently part of the Agrobiotech acceleration program, which promotes sustainable growth of Galician innovative SMEs in the biotechnology, food, agriculture and biomass sectors, and promoted by the Galician Innovation Agency (GAIN) and Galicia Technology Park-Tecnópole.

Its main clients are public administrations, private companies and also private clients that need to analyze the water from a domestic water well, or neighborhood waterways. At present they are the only private company that can provide in Galicia bioassays, marine sediments, to comply with the dredging materials guidelines. They are accredited by ENAC for water analysis and sampling. Right now they are over ten thousand annual samples.

Laboratorios de INDROPS.

In general terms, the waters of Galicia are of very good quality and are subject to continuous controls. The control of drinking water is very strict and there are very defined protocols to act and even cut off the supply in case there is a risk to the population supplied. The river waters suffer more alterations in their quality since they are usually the recipients of the different discharges of the industries and of the different population centers. The control over discharges is also continuous, although it is more complex than in drinking water and poses a risk to the quality of water that is spread throughout the territory, wherever there is human activity. “One of the main factors in the quality of drinking water is the composition of the soil, we are in areas where there is a greater concentration of metals such as aluminum or arsenic, the treatments to be made are more complex to be suitable for consumption”  says Miguel González, general director of INDROPS. Water quality can also get worse in a timely manner when there is a drought, but it is known that there are areas in Galicia that have metals in the soil, despite the fact that the director of INDROPS states that “we should not create unnecessary alarms since the competent authorities always act so that the supplied water meets the sanitary requirements”. The one that does recommend, for those who are interested in knowing how good the water in their area is, is to enter the SINAC page, where the water quality of any town hall appears, even at the historical level.

The waters of the marine environment also have a very good level of control and quality. The problem is that there are sewage treatment plants, both industrial and urban, that are designed to eliminate only compounds of organic matter or microbiological contamination, but in the last three decades they are going through a series of waste that is not eliminated in this type of treatment plant . We are talking, for example, about residues of medicines, cosmetics, drugs… “The current treatment plants do not suppress these products that are reaching our estuaries. Thus we are detecting that there are marine species that are being affected in their reproduction and survival. Possibilities are being investigated to try to improve the disappearance of our waters from these pollutants”, explains Miguel González.

The SEALAB project

Currently there is a European regulation that sets priority substances: metals, pesticides, aromatic hydrocarbons … These pose a risk to the environment and human health. Other harmful substances, such as drug or drug waste, are not included in this list, because “the regulations are quite slow compared to the reality of everyday life.” In the case of Galicia, the levels of these priority substances in the waters of our environment are being controlled. Since debugging systems are not the ones to debug them, it is very difficult to get improvements. The solution to the problem would be to reduce the emission of these pollutants.

With this objective, INDROPS is developing a project that consists of a sensor that detects these priority substances in real time. Currently, the methods of analysis are not the ones to detect the levels requested by the legislation. The partners of this project called Sealab are already advancing in the development of a laboratory with an innovative sampling and management system that incorporates nanosensors for four of these substances, in addition to measuring other auxiliary parameters (oxygen, temperature, conductivity or turbidity).

The portable laboratory of priority substances, designed by the company INDROPS Laboratorio together with INL (International Iberian Nanotechnology Laboratory), will incorporate the unmanned light marine vehicle of easy take-off in which the company Industrias Ferri is working with the collaboration of the Unit of Marine Technologies of Cetmar. The boat will have a double propulsion system that will have one motor for the transfer to the sampling point and electric motors that reduce the risk of contamination in the maneuvers in the control area and that late-night developed by CETMAR. The operating system of all the elements integrated in the boat, in addition to communications and teleoperations, are being developed by the company Imatia Innovation. This company is also responsible for the design of a platform that will manage all the information related to both water samples and navigation, sending it in real time to the base, which can act early according to the data transmitted on the existence of priority substances or other parameters.

Once all these works have been completed, their operation will be validated in real conditions. According to the deadlines for those responsible for the Sealab project, which began in 2018, the tests to verify the operation of the portable laboratory will be carried out in real conditions at sea in September 2020. The SEALAB project is co-financed by GAIN (Axencia Galega de Innovation), Ministry of Economy, Emprego and Industry of the Xunta de Galicia and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), through the CONECTA PEME 2018 call.

INDROPS is developing a sensor that detects priority substances in real time

Research in constant motion

There are more research groups from the University of Santiago de Compostela that are looking to eliminate these types of compounds. The problem is that these vary constantly. “Every day there are new medications, pesticides, cosmetics… so it is an ongoing challenge. This search is going to be one not stop. At best in ten years we are able to purify what is harmful today, but then the one that pollutes has already changed, ”says the director general of INDROPS.

In INDROPS they had already carried out ambitious projects in 2018. The Ramica Project consisted of a robotic monitoring system for microbiological analysis of water quality, and in the Sabius project they developed a sensor that allowed microbiological analysis of pollutants from bathing waters In INDROPS they intend to achieve new business paths and consolidation of the current business, which can offer them sustainability over time.


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