Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

Getting Straight on What's Flushed: "Sewage Epidemiology" Measures Community Drug Consumption

Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

Getting Straight on What's Flushed: "Sewage Epidemiology" Measures Community Drug Consumption

Article excerpt

Active pharmaceutical agents and other chemicals in sewage pose a considerable concern when one considers the potential for inadvertent exposures through treated water. On the flip side, wastewater can also provide a wealth of economical and accessible epidemiologic data on common drug products consumed and excreted into community sewage systems. Now researchers have successfully tested a new "sewage epidemiology" analysis strategy to obtain near-time information on community usage rates of drugs, allowing trends and patterns to be promptly monitored [EHP 116: 1027-1032; Zuccato et al.].

Many drug usage studies focus on prevalence data--reported use rates based on the integration of population surveys with medical records, drug production and seizure rates, and crime statistics. But obtaining information through these channels can often be time-consuming and the accuracy questionable, as the data are based partly on self-reported use. Using a novel approach first proposed in 2001, the researchers in the current study gathered data from sewage treatment plants in Milan (Italy), Lugano (Switzerland), and London (England) to obtain information on community-wide consumption of cocaine, heroin, cannabis, and amphetamines.

The investigators collected composite samples of untreated wastewater from major sewage treatment plants in each of the cities every 20 minutes for 24 hours in a time-proportional mode and pooled the samples using a computer-controlled device. They also tested field data from a given treatment plant for reproducibility over time: samples were taken on consecutive days for 1 week on 3 different occasions in Milan and Lugano, and on 2 days at 2 major plants in London. …

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