Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Drug testing whole cities from a teaspoon of sewage waste water

From the AP, via physorg:
The test wouldn't 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, like methamphetamines, across the country...In the study presented Tuesday, one teaspoon of untreated sewage water from each of the cities was tested for 15 different drugs. Field said researchers can't calculate how many people in a town are using drugs...
Oregon State University 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 people are taking...
Some other entertaining tidbits:
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 Jennifer Field, the lead researcher and a professor of environmental toxicology at Oregon State...
She said that 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.

And the winner is?

The ingredient Americans consume and excrete the most was caffeine, Field said.
Fascinating to have such sensitive data while an individual's anonymity is protected. As long as they don't start collecting this information from people's toilets, homes, or workplaces, this could be a very useful public health tool. Makes me wonder what other information they can track from our waste water, and how all these chemicals are impacting our rivers, streams, and even oceans?

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