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Waipara mātai tahumaero

Wastewater epidemiology

Wastewater-based epidemiology allows ESR scientists to build a picture of the health and habits of people at the community level, to help make decisions that improve the wellbeing of Aotearoa.

Wastewater Surveillence


About wastewater-based epidemiology

Because many of the chemicals and microorganisms we’re exposed to in our environment are absorbed, metabolised, and excreted in urine and faeces, they become detectable in wastewater. By monitoring the presence and levels of these ‘biomarkers’ ESR scientists are helping understand the health and habits of the community, and potential emerging threats.

ESR currently uses wastewater based epidemiology for routine surveillance of COVID-19, polio and measuring consumption of illicit drugs.

Samples are collected every week from wastewater treatment plants around Aoteaora New Zealand for testing of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. In addition, we use wastewater based epidemiology as a complementary tool for polio surveillance as part of the global eradication programme.

ESR also uses wastewater based epidemiology to better understand the use of illegal drugs in Aotearoa. Working in conjunction with the National Drug Intelligence Bureau, our nationwide wastewater drug testing programme provides real-time intelligence about how much, and which drugs are being used in our towns and cities. This information is used to help inform drug policy change, and to guide more efficient drug harm reduction initiatives.

Wastewater based epidemiology can also provide insight into a range of other health issues, including consumption of new psychoactive substances (NPS), alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, pesticides, over-the-counter pain relievers and food toxins, as well as exposure to environmental contaminants and other pathogens. It has also been shown to have a role in monitoring antimicrobial resistance (AMR), and to screen communities for disease indicators.

Wastewater surveillance reports