Wastewater analysis – New data multi-city study on the drug wastewater analysis released

New findings of the largest European study on illicit drugs in wastewater analysis were published by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) in Lisbon as part of the EMCDDA European Drug Report 2015 (EDR). The report presents the latest data on cocaine, amphetamine, methamphetamine, ecstasy and cannabis levels obtained in wastewater of European cities measured by the European SCORE network. Findings are available here.

The purpose of the SCORE study was to assess geographical differences and temporal changes in illicit drug use in metropolitan settings across the region. It is the second, and most extensive, WWA application to date, covering multiple countries, over consecutive years (2011–14) and obtained according to a fixed protocol.

Wastewater analysis is a rapidly developing and novel scientific discipline with the potential for monitoring near-real-time population-level trends in illicit drug use. By sampling a known source of wastewater, such as a sewage influent to a wastewater treatment plant (WWTP), scientists can now estimate the quantity of drugs used in a community by measuring the levels of illicit drugs and their metabolites excreted in urine.

From London to Nicosia and Stockholm to Lisbon, the study analysed daily wastewater samples in the catchment areas of WWTPs over a one-week period in April 2014. The results were compared to data collected in the years 2011-2013[1]. Wastewater from approximately 29 million people was analysed for traces of five illicit drugs: amphetamine, cannabis, cocaine, ecstasy and methamphetamine.

The WWA results provide a valuable snapshot of the drug flow through the cities involved, revealing marked regional variations in drug use patterns. Trace of cocaine, for example, were higher in western and some southern European cities but lower in northern and eastern cities. Use of ecstasy revealed that The Netherlands, Norway, UK, Denmark and Australia showed the highest levels. Use of amphetamine, while relatively evenly distributed, showed the highest levels in the north and northwest of Europe. Methamphetamine use, generally low and traditionally concentrated in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Scandinavia, also appears to be substantial in Australia. And when weekly patterns of drug use were examined, cocaine and ecstasy levels rose sharply at weekends in most cities, while methamphetamine and cannabis use appeared to be more evenly distributed throughout the week.

The EMCDDA EDR 2014 concluded that ‘Wastewater analysis provides the possibility to collect and report measurements more quickly and regularly than is the current norm for national surveys’. The EDR 2015 shows that WWA indeed serves as a complement to other European drug surveillance methods, with the clear potential to shed extra light on drug use trends in Europe, including the use of new psychoactive substances.

[1] See Journal article: Spatial differences and temporal changes in illicit drug use in Europe quantified by wastewater analysis. Addiction 109 (2014) 1338-1352 http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/add.12570/abstract;jsessionid=6E856F030CDBBCA46124C551C44896B5.f04t02

SEWPROF ITN meets in Castellon, Spain

SEWPROF Training Event, 29-30 April 2015


The participants were welcomed by Félix Hernández at University Jaume I in Castellón, Spain. After a brief introduction about the university and the program, the training school began.

Day 1 was focussed on method validation with an emphasis on chromatography coupled to mass spectrometry and included 6 lectures and 2 group activities.

Adrian Covaci (University of Antwerp) presented the validation of quantitative LC-MS/MS methods. Tania Portoles (University Jaume I) continued with the validation of qualitative methods, while Lubertus Bijlsma (University Jaume I) outlined the quantification, identification and confirmation of licit and illicit drugs in sewage analysis.

Jose Benito Quintana (University of Santiago de Compostela) gave a lecture on the estimation of limits of quantification and detection in sewage analysis and Juan V. Sancho (University Jaume I) provided examples of GC (APCI)-MS (MS/MS QqQ, QTOF MS) in environmental analytical chemistry. Finally, Leon Barron (King’s College London) explained the use of retention time prediction as a tool to improve the quality of large screening.

The afternoon sessions consisted of two group activities. Maria Ibáñez (University Jaume I) demonstrated how to treat HRMS data and Christoph Ruttkies (Leibniz Institute of Plant Biochemistry) on the use of MetFrag and MetFusion software in the identification process of suspect and non-target analyses.

Day 2 was focussed on Quality Control and Quality Assurance.

Nuria Font (IPROMA) explained quality control in accredited environmental laboratories. Malcolm Reid (Norwegian Institute for Water Research, NIVA) and Pim de Voogt (KWR Watercycle Research Institute) explained the ongoing European-wide inter-laboratory testing. Félix Hernández (University Jaume I) explained about having a GLP-certified laboratory in a university environment. Ettore Zuccato (Mario Negri Institute) gave a lecture on ethical research guidelines

After the lectures, the current state and challenges in wastewater-based epidemiology discussed by a round table panel comprising John Ramsey (TICTAC), Kevin V. Thomas (Norwegian Institute for Water Research, NIVA), Juan V. Sancho (University Jaume I) and Sara Castiglioni (Mario Negri Institute).

In the afternoon an additional special session on opportunities for EU funding and access to the job market was made, with various members of start-up companies within ESPAITEC giving their initial experiences of the job market. Finally, Gillian Overend (University of Bath) gave a brief insight into EU and international funding opportunities.

SEWPROF Newsletter Issue 3, February 2015

Issue 3, edited by Janelle van Wel, provides updates on the SEWPROF project, wich a focus on Ann-Kathrin Ostermeyer and her work on biofilms in sewer systems.  In addition, several of the ESR/ERs tell about their experiences of their research secondments.

Newsletter Issue 3 – February 2015

PhD Award Congratulations to Dr Lubertus Bijlsma!

We are delighted to announce that Dr Lubertus Bijlsma, a member of SEWPROF based at the University Jaume I (UJI), in Castellon, Spain, was successfully awarded his PhD (cum laude) for his thesis: ‘The investigation of illicit drugs and their metabolites in water by liquid chromatography coupled to low and high resolution mass spectrometry”. Department of Physical and Analytical Chemistry, Research Institute for Pesticides and Water, University Jaume I, Castellon (Es).  Supervisors: Félix Hernández; Juan V. Sancho.

SEWPROF Newsletter Issue 2, December 2014

The second issue of the newsletter, edited by Janelle van Wel.  In this edition, apart from reports from a number of ESRs/ERs, the focus lies on the work of Jose Antonio Baz Lomba and the first SCORE working group in Malta.

Newsletter Issue 2 – December 2014

SEWPROF ITN meets in Milan

SEWPROF: Fourth Training school 17-18 September Milan

The fourth SEWPROF Training School took place on 17-18 September 2014 at the Istituto di Ricerche Farmacologiche Mario Negri, Milan, Italy. Title of the Course: “Assessing human health and lifestyle by sewage epidemiology”

Here you can find the program (PDF) and the minutes (PDF) also shown below. This course was co-organised together with the EU-funded COST network action ES1307  named  SCORE

Welcome to participants

The participants were welcomed by Sara Castiglioni and Ettore Zuccato at the Istituto di Ricerche Farmacologiche Mario Negri, in Milan. A brief introduction about the Institute research activity and the topics of Training School was given by Sara Castiglioni.

Milan 1

First Day “Molecular toxicology and human pharmacokinetics (including substance misuse)”

The first day activity was focused on pharmacokinetic and toxicology related to substance misuse and eight lectures were given.

Firstly, Jane Mounteney (European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction) presented the latest trends and developments in Europe’s drug situation and the responses which are being implemented. Jorgen Bramness (University of Oslo) lectures were focused on pharmacology and pharmaco-epidemiology of prescription drugs (such as antipsychotic drugs) with abuse potentials. Markus Meyer (University of Saarland) presented an overview of pharmacokinetic processes and focused on new tools to perform studies on drugs (and new drugs) metabolism. Barbara Karsprzyk-Hordern (university of Bath) gave a lecture on the pharmacokinetic relevance of enantiomeric profiling of chiral drugs in wastewater-based epidemiology and Christoph Ort (Eawag-Aquatic Research) on the current approaches used to estimate the number of inhabitants served by a sewage treatment plant and population dynamic (this lecture was scheduled originally for the second day, but it was anticipated for logistic reasons).

Finally, after lunch Luigi Cervo (Mario Negri Institute) presented several examples of long-lasting neuroplastic changes related to drug abuse and Sara Castiglioni (Mario Negri Institute) showed how pharmacokinetic studies can be used to identify potential environmental contaminants.

Milan 2Milan 3

The afternoon was dedicated to visit the Wastewater Treatment Plant of Milano Nosedo, the biggest treatment plant in Milan that collects 50% of urban wastewater from the city.

Second day “Epidemiology (key topics: pharmaco-epidemiology, sewage epidemiology)”

The second day activity was focused on epidemiology and particularly on wastewater-based epidemiology and five lectures were given. Ettore Zuccato (Mario Negri Institute) described the sewage epidemiology approach including potentials, limitations and new applications. Caleb Banta-Green (University of Washington) presented how wastewater testing can be used for drug epidemiology and public health interventions and Sara Castiglioni (Mario Negri Institute) gave an overview of the applications of sewage epidemiology to estimate drug consumption in different communitiespublished so far. Malcolm Reid (Norvegian Institute of Water Research) showed a new application of wastewater-based epidemiology to monitor alcohol consumption in a community and Renzo Bagnati (Mario Negri Institute) how steroids in wastewater can be used as markers of abuse.

Group Activity. The activity consisted in an exercise to estimate the use of a substance in different case studies including specific evaluation of sampling, pharmacokinetic profile of the substance and back-calculation of consumption. Each group voted a rapporteur and the results were shared in a final common presentation and discussion.

SEWPROF Newsletter Issue 1, October 2014

The new SEWPROF Newsletter is here!  Edited by Janelle van Wel, the newsletter will be published bi-monthly and will include reports on research, articles, notifications about new publications within the network, and so on.  Happy reading! 

Newsletter 1 – 10-2014

Cocaine consumption during Street Parade 2014

Sewage-based epidemiology reveals that cocaine consumption during the mega event with 950’000 party goers at Street Parade in Zurich did not differ substantially from a weekend during a normal week.

Watch the short news report broadcasted during prime time at Swiss Television on Friday 8th of August (in Swiss German) or assess the graphs.

EMCDDA Scientific Paper Award 2013: Two SEWPROF members among co-authors of a short-listed paper

Malcolm Reid and Kevin Thomas co-authored a paper which was short-listed for the annual EMCDDA best paper award 

Malcolm J Reid, Katherine H Langford, Merete Grung, Hallvard Gjerde, Ellen J Amundsen, Jorg Morland, Kevin V Thomas, ‘Estimation of cocaine consumption in the community: a critical comparison of the results from three complimentary techniques’ in BMJ Open 2012;2:e001637

Special Issue on wastewater-based epidemiology published in Science of the Total Environment


A Special Issue on wastewater-based epidemiology entitled ‘Testing the waters: A selection of papers from the first international multidisciplinary conference on detecting illicit drugs in wastewater’ was published in  Science of the Total Environment.

Science of The Total Environment
Volume 487, Pages 611-745 (15 July 2014)