Could wastewater analysis be a useful tool for China? - A review

Jianfa Gao, Jake O'Brien, Foon Yin Lai, Alexander L.N. van Nuijs, Jun He, Jochen F. Mueller, Jingsha Xu, Phong K. Thai

Research output: Journal PublicationReview articlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)
39 Downloads (Pure)


Analysing wastewater samples is an innovative approach that overcomes many limitations of traditional surveys to identify and measure a range of chemicals that were consumed by or exposed to people living in a sewer catchment area. First conceptualised in 2001, much progress has been made to make wastewater analysis (WWA) a reliable and robust tool for measuring chemical consumption and/or exposure. At the moment, the most popular application of WWA, sometimes referred as sewage epidemiology, is to monitor the consumption of illicit drugs in communities around the globe, including China. The approach has been largely adopted by law enforcement agencies as a device to monitor the temporal and geographical patterns of drug consumption. In the future, the methodology can be extended to other chemicals including biomarkers of population health (e.g. environmental or oxidative stress biomarkers, lifestyle indicators or medications that are taken by different demographic groups) and pollutants that people are exposed to (e.g. polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, perfluorinated chemicals, and toxic pesticides). The extension of WWA to a huge range of chemicals may give rise to a field called sewage chemical-information mining (SCIM) with unexplored potentials. China has many densely populated cities with thousands of sewage treatment plants which are favourable for applying WWA/SCIM in order to help relevant authorities gather information about illicit drug consumption and population health status. However, there are some prerequisites and uncertainties of the methodology that should be addressed for SCIM to reach its full potential in China.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)70-79
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Environmental Sciences
Issue numberC
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • Biomarkers
  • Drug consumption
  • Population health
  • Wastewater analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • General Environmental Science


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