During my Wednesday visit to Evonik Degussa’s groundbreaking ceremony for its new alkoxide (used as biodiesel catalyst) plant in Mobile, Alabama, they told me about their high-tech wastewater monitoring system – using sea urchins to monitor the site’s waste water effluent.
According to Evonik, sea urchin bioassay determines the concentration of wastewater versus potential toxicity of a substance by measuring its effect on a living organism such as sea urchins. The company has been using this testing for decades.
In order to test the Mobile wastewater, Evonik staff collects cells from male sea urchins and exposes them to the wastewater for one hour. After that, eggs from female sea urchins are collected as well and put them in the wastewater along with the male sea urchin sperm for fertilization (which takes place within 20 minutes).
After the romantic mating, a sample of the egg is tested under a microscope for any fertilization ring. If the ring turns blue (or the word Yes is formed) then congratulations are in order. But for a really good testing, Evonik said a ring should be formed around the egg indicating that no toxicity is present in the wastewater.
About 100 eggs are regularly being tested.