U.S. Navy licenses chemical detection technology

By the middle of 2004, office buildings, factories, shopping malls and other public buildings could be equipped with life-saving chemical detectors like the ones used on U.S. Navy ships.

Under a recently-announced licensing deal, the Navy will allow Science and Technology Research Inc. (STR) in Fredericksburg, Va., to build and sell a basic version of the devices to state and local government agencies, businesses and emergency services groups as another tool in the U.S. homeland security arsenal.

STR already builds the devices, called Shipboard Automatic Chemical Agent Detector and Alarm (Ship ACADA) systems, for use on Navy ships. The Ship ACADA devices, which were invented by Navy engineers, are portable, battery-powered detectors that sound warnings if chemical agents such as blister or nerve agents are detected, according to the company. The Navy devices contain a reprogrammable computer chip to allow the detection in the future of chemical threats that are unknown today.

Two versions of the devices will be built under the license, said Edward Kessler, vice-president and general manager at STR. One version can be installed in the ventilation systems of office buildings and other structures to monitor circulating air for chemical agents. A smaller handheld portable device will be available for emergency response crews to check air quality in the event of a terrorist attack or accidental chemical release.

The installable devices will sell for about US$9,000, while the handheld devices will cost about US$6,000, Kessler said. The cost of the devices puts them out of reach for home use, he said.

The devices won’t detect biological toxins such as anthrax, Kessler said, but development is under way to detect many toxic industrial chemicals such as hydrogen sulfide.

The units can be used “any place you’ve got a lot of people” and want to maintain safety, he said.

Financial terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.

STR has been working with the Navy to develop the detectors since about 1994, and they have been used on Navy ships since 2000. This is the first STR deal to market a technology it has developed with the Navy, Kessler said.

Capt. Lyal Davidson, commanding officer of the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgren, Va., said in a statement that such licensing deals “encourage the private sector and government to creatively and effectively work together to increase the safety of our forward-deployed warfighters and protect Americans on the home front.”

STR is a wholly owned subsidiary of Markland Technologies in Providence, R.I.

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