Wednesday, August 26, 2009
I believe we all benefit when techniques used to improve and/or safeguard our lives are natural and/or low-tech. In my mind, the more bells and whistles an item or procedure has the more chances there are that things can wrong – and they usually do. I’ll take the no-frills options every time.
Many coastal communities worldwide struggle with the high cost of keeping public beaches and fishing areas clean and pollution free. Three Michigan US counties have already used this low-tech, inexpensive, natural sewage detector so far and are very pleased with both the results and the financial savings as compared to traditional methods. What is causing all the excitement in the field of environmental consulting?
The furor is over a 3.5 year-old German Shepherd mix and former shelter dog from Lansing, Michigan named Sable. Sable's trainer, Scott Reynolds, who worked for an environmental consulting firm, Tetra Tech when he started training Sable said the dog is the only canine known to reliably detect raw sewage or detergents flowing into sewers from illegal or bungled pipe connections.
Sable has already sniffed out illegal connections in three Michigan counties. Field tests in 2007 and 2008 showed Sable was 87% accurate compared with traditional laboratory water tests, Reynolds claims. He went on to say that he feels that some of Sable’s errors can be attributed to animal waste in the water.
Word of Sable's exploits are spreading. Communities in Maine and New Hampshire struggling to protect their swimming beaches and shellfish beds from bacterial pollution are considering bringing the dog to New England.
Forrest Bell of consulting firm FB Environmental is coordinating the Maine and New Hampshire cleanups. He says that Sable can save money by reducing the number of dye tests -- where dye is dropped into toilets so investigators can see where it goes -- and follow-up lab work. "We can take it from 200 houses to maybe we only need to do dyed-water testing for 10," Reynolds said.
The price for trainer and dog to travel and work for a week ranges between $5,000 and $10,000; but, this is much more inexpensive than using other specialized tests that could cost more than $100,000, Bell said. "We think that Sable is going to be a good, cost-effective and accurate way to try to do some of these detections," he said.
Sue Kubic, senior engineer with Michigan's Genesee County Drain Commission, which has used Sable’s services, said the dog provides quick results. "Instead of sending a sample to a lab and finding out two weeks or two months later and having to go back and take three or four or five more samples, you can narrow it down and eliminate some of the tests you have to take," she said.
Said Kubic: "Sending that crew out day after day, going and spending an hour or two at each house, doing dye testing to find out if the sanitary is hooked up to the storm system -- if you start adding up the people time and travel time, that's where the real money is."
Reynolds is now training two more sewage-sniffing canines and has started his own company, Environmental Canine Services LLC. He offers detection services, as well as training for agencies that want their own scent-trained dogs.
The point, Reynolds said, is to make the service affordable for small communities and nonprofit organizations.
Word has it that Sable is enthusiastic about his job despite the smell.
Posted by Pippa