Dorset Council to Launch Sensors Targeting Real-time Pollution Applications

05-12-2022 | By Robin Mitchell

Concerned with the testing standards performed by environmental agencies in the UK, the Dorset council plans to introduce its own real-time testing standards to monitor pollution levels at its piers and beaches. Why have beaches suffered from pollution issues, what does Dorset council plan to do, and how does this demonstrate the importance of smart spaces and IoT in general?

What have beaches suffered from pollution issues?

While the UK isn’t exactly famous for its weather, it is renowned for its quintessentially British beaches, fish and chips, and ice cream. However, rising polluted waters around Britain’s shores pose a major threat to tourism and public health. But where exactly is this pollution coming from, and why is it causing issues?

During periods of drought, the lack of rain causes the ground to dry up and become hydrophobic, meaning that water sits on top instead of being absorbed. This can easily be tested by pouring water onto dry ground vs wet ground; water will readily be absorbed by the wet ground, whereas dry ground will struggle. Such dry ground isn’t an issue if rain comes back gradually, giving the ground time to absorb the excess water.

However, if heavy rain comes immediately after a drought, the vast majority of water cannot be absorbed, which almost always leads to flash floods. These floods will then find their way into storm drains and sewer systems which can quickly overload sewage treatment plants. To protect the sewer system, companies operating these facilities will open gates to divert excess sewage into the sea. 

Under normal circumstances, dumping sewage into the sea isn’t an issue due to the sheer size of the ocean compared to the volume of sewage being dumped. Furthermore, it massively helps if sewage companies use pipes that extend miles out into the sea, so that shore waters are not affected. 

Unfortunately, many sewer systems don’t have pipes that extend that far out, and this now sees beaches polluted with sewage full of harmful bacteria and chemicals. In some cases, this sewage release is plainly evident, with the water being a darker shade compared to the surrounding water, but in other instances, it can be difficult to identify. As such, unsuspecting beachgoers will be exposed to a polluted environment without even knowing. 

Dorset council to launch real-time sensor scheme

Dorset is home to many famous beaches meaning that monitoring sea pollution is a top priority for the local council. However, a recent meeting by the council has revealed the disappointment in government environmental protection standards and testing measures citing that current tests are not real-time. Furthermore, sea pollution levels are also estimated based on wind patterns and tides, which is inaccurate.

As such, the local council in Dorset is planning to look for business partners who can help integrate modern smart sensors into piers that can actively monitor for pollution. A two-year pilot in Poole Harbour, using UnifAI Technology, has already shown excellent results taking advantage of low-cost wireless IoT sensors and AI. If deployed, the sensor array would allow the council to inform the public of pollution alerts in real-time, thereby safeguarding tourist income while protecting public health.

The specific area targeted for sensors is Boscombe and is believed to be one of the first uses of active pollution monitoring in water in the world. Potential business partners are encouraged to contact the local council and present their ideas that will be integrated with the Council’s pre-existing Smart Place Infrastructure.

How does this move demonstrate the importance of IoT?

Many people think that the purpose of IoT is to create smart homes, smart toasters, and smart kettles. However, such applications are typically niche in nature and rarely deploy at scale. Instead, it is more likely that Smart Cities and environmental protection will gain the most from IoT and, in return, help the IoT industry grow to an unimaginable scale. The ability to actively monitor the environment allows for decisions to be made based on fact instead of best guesses, and this can limit the impact on economies and public health.

A good example of how future IoT sensors can be used to protect economies and public health is pandemic control. Simply locking down an entire nation to prevent the spread of a disease is an extremely blunt measure that offers no precision, damages the economy, and leads to potential violence. Instead, future sensors could be designed to detect virus particles that show areas of potential infection, and this can help to deploy local lockdowns that are less restrictive. Thus, the vast majority of the country can continue to be productive, and this will limit the damage done to the economy. 

IoT devices have so much potential, yet engineers have only scratched the surface of what they can do. As time progresses, IoT sensors will play an integral part in modern society and may even be used to make the vast majority of decisions. 


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By Robin Mitchell

Robin Mitchell is an electronic engineer who has been involved in electronics since the age of 13. After completing a BEng at the University of Warwick, Robin moved into the field of online content creation, developing articles, news pieces, and projects aimed at professionals and makers alike. Currently, Robin runs a small electronics business, MitchElectronics, which produces educational kits and resources.