New diagnostic tools in water fingerprinting for public and environmental health assessment

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bath
Department Name: Chemistry


The Challenge:
Changes in the Water Framework Directive (WFD) were introduced in 2014 which requires that, by 2018, certain pharmaceuticals in rivers are reduced to extremely low levels to protect the natural environment and human health. Stricter control of other pharmaceuticals are also envisioned.
Pharmaceuticals in the environment are mainly due to the discharge of treated effluent from wastewater treatment works. The water sector is therefore keen to advance knowledge in this area and has prioritised 20 pharmaceutical compounds for further investigation, which are prescribed in relation to conditions such as cardio-vascular disease, obesity, diabetes and depression/anxiety.
To reduce the load of pharmaceuticals in the environment, greater control and treatment at wastewater treatment works would be needed. However, this would lead to a significant increase in the costs of wastewater treatment and therefore an increase in water bills. Wessex Water has estimated that it would cost £2.2bn to reduce pharmaceuticals in wastewater discharges by 80% at wastewater treatment works in the Wessex Water region for a population of 10,000 or more. This is in addition to the wider costs of illness to society. Hence, the current situation is unsustainable and needs disruptive change. The intention of this project is to provide the data and evidence to help prompt that change.

How solve the challenge:
The reduction pharmaceutical levels in the aquatic environment can be achieved by technological advances in waste water treatment or via interventions targeting control at source where it is required to understand the extent to which a populations use and disposal of prescribed pharmaceuticals. Social prescribing is a social intervention which encourages changes in lifestyle coupled with provision of educational material and advice to create awareness regarding disposal of pharmaceuticals. The potential benefits this provides is the improved water quality and environmental helth, increased health and wellbeing of the communities served and compliance with new environmental regulations in a cost-efficient and sustainable way.
Urban wastewater studies help provide information on pharmaceutical levels as well as verifying public health status within a particular area. This is due to urban wastewater containing biomarkers which are chemical substances including a wide range of human related products, e.g. genes, proteins and metabolites. Analysis of biomarkers found in wastewater allows for spatial and temporal estimation and prediction of community-wide health under different environmental and socio-economic scenarios. This approach has been successfully used to determine illicit drug, alcohol and tobacco use. There is the clear potential to develop a wider range of innovative solutions to quantitatively assess patterns of factors related to health and illness within populations in order to undertake comprehensive evaluation of public health.

(1) Select characteristic biomarkers of public health status.
(2) Adopt and validate analytical methods within the Environmental Chemistry Group.
(3) Establish sampling methodology and protocols for long-term monitoring of public health status.
(4) Undertake an extensive monitoring programme to estimate biomarker baseline.
(5) Estimate effectiveness of interventions undertaken of social intervention (via the analysis of biomarkers) in the context of public health status and water quality.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/R512424/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2021
1940102 Studentship EP/R512424/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2021 Andrew Mithulan KANNAN