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Scientists identified 926 “spill events” from two wastewater treatment plants over an 11-year period by employing machine learning. The UK Environment Agency said it was “impressed by the accuracy” of the approach. “We welcome any tool that prevents pollution,” the agency said.

The researchers, who published their study in the journal Clean Water, trained a computer algorithm to recognize, through the pattern of flow through a treatment plant, when a spill was happening. 

Can you reduce water pollution through AI?

Clean Water AI uses a deep learning neural network to detect dangerous bacteria and harmful particles in water. Drinking water can be seen at a microscopic level with real-time detection.

Wastewater Treatment

AI can be used to reduce pollutants in the water which in turn decreases water contamination and scarcity of clean water. AI can be leveraged to detect the amount and composition of toxic contaminants since AI works on optics, which can increase the efficiency of waste management systems.

How can artificial intelligence help?

The research – led by Prof Peter Hammond, also from the UKCEH – used a pattern recognition algorithm originally developed for medical genetics.

“Previously, I was using machine learning to detect subtle differences in the shape of children's faces to help diagnose certain genetic conditions,” he said.

“Instead of mapping the 3D shape of a face, here we have the shape of the flow through a wastewater treatment works.”

While that may seem like a departure, the pattern recognition and machine learning approach works in the same way.

As the name suggests, pattern recognition is a way of using computing to detect regular or repeating elements in data. Machine learning is an approach to detecting those patterns using algorithms that improve automatically, through experience and through the analysis of data.

The researchers spent years gathering data about flow rates in two treatment plants – teaching the algorithm to recognise the “shape of the flow” when a plant was operating normally and when it was spilling untreated wastewater.

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