Wastewater Monitoring as a Public Health Tool
Dealing with the Future by Looking at the Past
by Gene Franks
A few years ago a researcher at a local university showed that university enrollment figures can be determined with a fair degree of accuracy by monitoring wastewater for the presence of an easily detected ingredient of birth control pills. The higher the enrollment, the more college women peeing estrogen into the sewage system.
With Covid, wastewater monitoring for the virus has been found to be not just an effective method, but the most effective method for tracking the number of cases.
In addition to the presence of coronavirus and birth control use, wastewater testing can effectively measure the presence of any number of environmental toxins, diseases like ebola, tuberculosis, flu and polio, anthrax, illegal drugs, prescription drugs, guns (by measuring gun residue), alcohol, mental illness (by testing for stress hormones), and even food and lifestyle choices.
In today’s highly charged political atmosphere it’s easy to see how wastewater monitoring might become a “rights” issue. Sewage typically travels through publicly owned infrastructure to a treatment plant operated by a utility. Researchers and officials currently sample wastewater for public health related issues such as flu and polio without public objection. Samples are usually collected with permission of the utility, but no one asks the households being sampled if they are willing to participate. The “founding fathers” did not mention freedom from wastewater monitoring as one of our inalienable rights, but it doesn’t take much imagination to see that looking for evidence of polio in waste water could be bitterly condemned as a plot to turn children into robots via a sinister vaccination program.
Reference Source: The Conversation.