[Southern_AZ_MWS] OSU scientists detect traces of drugs in
wastewater of 10 cities
CathyMullan at cox.net
Fri Aug 24 12:42:16 MST 2007
Another thing to consider when we use recycle wastewater back into
drinking water... drugs found there.
Ira Flatow on NPR's Science Friday (Aug. 24th KJZZ) asked Dr. Jennifer
Field during his interview with her if this is being cleaned out of our
topic: using sewage to track illegal drug use
Professor, Environmental Molecular Toxicology
Oregon State University
Article about it:
August 22, 2007
OSU scientists detect traces of drugs in wastewater of 10 cities
Oregon State University researchers have figured out how to detect
traces of drugs, from cocaine to caffeine, using just a teaspoon of
wastewater from a city’s sewage treatment plant.
The team of scientists tested 10 unnamed American cities for remnants
of drugs, both legal and illegal, from wastewater streams. They were
able to show that they could get a good snapshot of what drugs people
Samples were taken from the Corvallis Wastewater Treatment facility as
part of the study’s early research, used to see if further testing was
feasible, according to Guy Allen, a city wastewater treatment
“It’s like a very diluted urine sample collected from an entire
community,” said Jennifer Field, an Oregon State environmental
toxicologist who led the team that developed the tests.
Field presented the study’s results Tuesday at a meeting of the
American Chemical Society in Boston with colleagues Daniel Sudakin, an
OSU toxicologist, Caleb Banta-Green, a drug epidemiologist at the
University of Washington, and Aurea Chiaia Hernandez, an OSU graduate
Two federal agencies have taken samples from U.S. waterways to see if
drug testing a whole city is doable, but they haven’t gotten as far as
the Oregon researchers.
The analysis can detect the presence of a long list of illicit drugs,
from methamphetamine to ecstasy and other markers of human presence
such as caffeine and cotinine, a break-down product of nicotine from
The test might not be used to finger any single person as a drug user,
but it would help federal law enforcement and other agencies track the
spread of dangerous drugs, such as methamphetamines, across the
Cities in the experiment ranged from 17,000 to 600,000 in population.
Field plans to start a survey for drugs in the wastewater of at least
40 Oregon communities.
Testing water for drugs is an area of city wastewater management that
is starting to gain more ground. Tom Penpraze, utilities division
manager, chairs a statewide committee looking into trying to control
unused prescription drugs before they enter the wastewater system.
Leftover drugs and unused medicines are the primary problem.
“The convenient and expedient thing to do is to flush them down the
toilet,” Penpraze said.
Although wastewater is often tested for contaminants after it is
treated as a measure of potential environmental impact, this new
approach allows small samples to be drawn over a 24-hour period as
sewage enters a wastewater plant, before it is treated, to get a
profile of the drugs being used in the community.
But translating a tiny trace of a drug into the number of individual
users is problematic, according to the researchers.
“Wastewater analysis is a more powerful indicator at the community
level,” Field said. “We are interested in the ‘community load’ of
drugs, so we want to take samples as close to the urinal as possible
without violating the privacy of individuals.”
Even in their preliminary study, the researchers found patterns over
time of drug occurrence in wastewater. One urban area with a gambling
industry had meth levels more than five times higher than other cities.
Yet methamphetamine levels were virtually nonexistent in some smaller
Midwestern locales, said Field.
She said one fairly affluent community scored low for illicit drugs
except for cocaine. Cocaine and ecstasy tended to peak on weekends and
drop on weekdays, she said, while methamphetamine and prescription
drugs were steady throughout the week.
Field said her study suggests that a key tool currently used by drug
abuse researchers — self-reported drug questionnaires — underestimates
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