Water Based Analytics

When we consume food our body tries its best to extract everything in it to keep us going. Not everything gets used of course. There are limits to how much of a particular compound our body can process — or even needs on a day to day basis. The leftover leaves us as waste down the toilet and that’s it.

The same holds true for drugs used. A trace amount of the drugs pass through our body and end up in wastewater.

In most modern countries this sewage gets directed to a wastewater treatment plant where it is then processed for disposal/reuse. Combining these two elements allows researches to do something quite cool.

By collecting samples at the wastewater-plant of a city or region it is possible to derive how much drugs are consumed in that area. Taking samples over a longer interval then allows to get a picture on when drugs are used most.

In a city not far from me the Gerichtsmedizin Innsbruck, as part of the Sewage Analysis CORe group Europe, has recently published their data.

For Innsbruck consumption of cocaine has been on the rise between 2016 and January 2018. But they’ve also found varying use of drugs throughout the week. Due to its addictiveness cocaine use is consistent, so are some performance-enhancing drugs. While MDMA/Ecstasy sees a spike in use over the weekends.

You can check the Europe-wide study here. Make sure to take a look at the interactive map and toggle between the various drugs & weekdays.

While doing this on a city wide basis is interesting, it can also be done for smaller communities. Like workplaces, schools, concerts, etc. The analysis above mentions this in ‘4 - Methods and ethics’, and doing so would be entering dangerous waters.

Turns out we humans leak data in everything we do.

top view of wastewater plant

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