Increased detection limits of TNT in the seabed and overlaying water | DISARM project

Increased detection limits of TNT in the seabed and overlaying water

As TNT is susceptible to microbial degradation, some of the metabolites are on the list of target compounds. Although TNT is well-known as explosive, it is a very toxic compound as well, and some of the degradation products are even more toxic. Moreover, the presence of TNT in the surrounding sediment and water, originally well-hidden in the housing of the explosive device, is an indication of the corrosion or so-called “loss of integrity”, not surprising for metal capsulations in a seawater environment.

Researchers at Directorate Natural Environment of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences are currently focusing on novel methods for an early detection of TNT to ensure that the signal can be picked up well before it could get problematically high. In order to do so, the detection of the target compounds is pushed to the limit, allowing to pick up signals down to 0.1 ng/g of sediment or 0.1 ng/L in the overlaying water. This means that it is possible to spot 1 mg of toxic compounds dispersed in a truckload, or a grain of corn dispersed in a standard swimming pool.

The advantage of these new, highly performant detection techniques is that we are able to spot the presence of TNT at a very early stage, which allows to perform an adequate follow-up by monitoring by checking the evolution of the concentrations in time and space.

Figure 1: Verwerking van TNT-waterstalen.