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Critically Speaking

Dec 2, 2020

In this episode, Therese Markow and Dr. Leon Barron discuss what is in our wastewater is, both before and after it goes through the treatment facilities. Wastewater treatment can vary among countries and even within a country, depending upon local population density and regulations.  Profiling what enters a water treatment facility reveals a lot about the health and pharmaceutical consumption of a given population. For example, cocaine use is higher in Europe than in the USA where methamphetamine is more commonly found at high levels in pretreatment wastewater. Even with treatment, not everything is removed from the water that we generally assume to be safe. For example, Dr. Barron’s recent research reveals that cocaine and other psychotropic drugs have been found in the rivers in “pristine” environments and that these drugs show up in the invertebrates and the fish that eat them.  While low levels are currently assumed to be safe for humans, longer term and more in depth studies on these levels for humans and fetal brain development are critical. International groups of collaborators, including Dr. Barron, are engaged in global monitoring of wastewater.



 Key Takeaways:

  • With "Wastewater Based Epidemiology",  samples of the discharge into the sewage network can be screened, in effect drug testing an entire city in one go.
  • It's very, very important that we understand where these drugs, especially pharmaceuticals and illicit drugs, are used,  where they end up and what effects they're having in order to take preemptive measures. 
  • While the current exposure and effect on humans is currently thought to be minimal, the concentrations of these drugs in the water you consume, and their health effects, require further study.



"The wastewater can really tell us an awful lot about what city is doing." —  Dr. Leon Barron


Connect with Dr. Leon Barron:

Kings College London Profile: Dr Leon Barron

Research: Dr Leon Barron


Connect with Therese:


Twitter: @CritiSpeak




Audio production by Turnkey Podcast Productions.