We have been able to locate three companies that sell automated continuous or near-continuous biomonitoring systems to detect toxic substances in water.  There are probably more.  None have been tested by the USGS, but all are in use in early-warning monitoring installations.  Here is the information we have been able to gather:


1.  Fish ventilatory biomonitor:  “Biosensor”, by

Biological Monitoring, Inc.

1800 Kraft Drive, Suite 101

      Blacksburg, Virginia 24060

David Gruber



Dr. Gruber builds these systems a few at a time.  He has a couple ready to go, and could build more in a month or so.  The cost for one is about $70,000, but the price could go down for multiple orders.  Fish swim in flow-through cells, and non-contact sensors monitor heart rate, gill opening rate, cough rate, and swimming motion.  Glenn Patterson saw a similar system in operation at Aberdeen Proving Ground to monitor effluent from a ground-water remediation project, and it seemed to be working well.  It was installed in a laboratory, but could be installed in a gage-house type environment


2.  Daphnia motion biomonitor:  “Daphnia Software”, by

      LemnaTec GmbH

      Schumanstrasse 18

      52146 Wurselen


      Dirk Vandenhirtz

      49 (0) 2405/41 26-11


This is apparently a near-continuous system based on automated processing of discrete samples.  It appears that daphnia in microtiter dishes are exposed to aliquots of the test water for 30-120 minutes, and are repeatedly scanned automatically to detect changes in motion.  We don’t know the price yet, but heard one toxicologist say “it’s expensive.”


3.  Bacterial metabolism sensor: “Amtox”, by

Pollution & Process Monitoring Ltd

Bourne Enterprise Centre - Borough Green, Sevenoaks - Kent.

TN15 8DG - England
Tel: + 44 (0) 1732 882 044 - Fax: + 44 (0) 1732 780 190

U.S. Representative:  Rob Whiteman, Ph.D.

Tel:     770-945-1113

Fax:     678-546-4837

Cell:    404-392-7731


This system was originally developed to detect toxic substances in the wastewater stream that would knock out nitrifying bacteria in wastewater treatment plants.  It’s based on an immobilized culture of nitrifying bacteria, and detects their response to substances in the water, in a flow-through system.  It has been adapted for use as one component of an early-warning monitoring system for source water on the Trent River downstream of Birmingham, England (a site visited by Jake Peters (nepeters), USGS).  The other four users mentioned on the web site are wastewater-related.  Here’s what the U.S. representative sent to us.  We’re not so sure about his claim that the companion TOC monitor can detect pathogens.


(From Rob Whiteman):

I have received your e-mail to PPM regarding the Amtox for on-line monitoring of drinking-water intake.


1) Suitability: Extremely good for low level acute or chronic toxicity not detected by hetrotrophic bacteria and simulates much better river fauna.


2) Costs vary dependent on site specific requirements for enclosures and remote data monitoring communications.  Base cost of on-line instrument $60,000 including filtration device.


3) Availability: Built to order with 6 weeks delivery upon receipt of PO.


4) Organisms used in the system: Nitrifiers.  These are immobilized to prevent wash-out from the continuous flow thru reactor.


5) Toxins detected: Any biologically toxic organic substance and inorganic substance including metals (Cu, Al....).


6) For Hazard & Biohazard detection: Amtox should be coupled with the PPM TOC monitor for detection of unwarranted biological agents such as viruses, water-borne pathogens including microbes such as Anthrax.  Organic matter can be detected down in the ppb range.



Rob Whiteman


In addition to the automated, continuous or near-continuous systems mentioned above, there are several biomonitors designed for manual testing of samples for toxic effects on a sentinel species, either streamside or in the laboratory.  The most familiar example is:


Microbial metabolism sensor:  “Microtox” by

      Azur Environmental

2232 Rutherford Rd

Carlsbad, California 92008-8883

Tel:      760-438 8282

Fax:      760-438 2980


This system uses a luminescent bacterium, Vibrio fischeri NRRL B-11177, to test for toxic substances.  The test device measures the light output of a culture vial.  The traditional Microtox setup is intended for the lab, but they now offer a portable field unit, called Deltatox, for manual use on discrete samples in the field.  The Solo pre-packaged vials provide a convenient testing approach, but it still relies on manual operation.