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Humans are continuously exposed to toxicants by different routes, such as inhalation, ingestion and dermal adsorption. Monitoring of population exposure to toxicants is a crucial part of public health programs, since national authorities and international organizations/committees have as an aim to provide scientific advice on safety issues, evaluate risks to human health and protect public health from risks posed by environmental chemicals.
Human Biomonitoring (HBM) has been adopted as the main and more potent tool in monitoring programs and epidemiological studies for assessing exposure to chemicals and their effects in the population. However, novel methodologies are needed in order to track human exposure at population level, overcoming some of the existing HBM limitations, such as the long realization time, sampling biases (i.e. momentary snapshot of exposure and morning urine collection), high costs for sampling collection and analysis, complexity of data elaboration to extrapolate results to the whole population and ethical issues.
Wastewater-Based Epidemiology (WBE) is an alternative to HBM and innovative approach for the retrieval of epidemiological information from wastewater through the analysis of specific human metabolic excretion products (biomarkers). It can be described as a collective urine test, as the wastewater from a city pools the anonymous urine samples of thousands of individuals. This approach can provide objective, real-time information on substances directly or indirectly ingested by a population.
Advantages of wastewater analysis
- objective and real time information can be obtained, at reduced complexity compared to other methodologies;
- rapid identification of any increase and/or decrease of particular substances within a surveyed area;
- evaluation of the effectiveness of preventive programs before, during and after the intervention;
- very low ethical risks.
- identification of illicit direct disposals of chemicals (i.e. pharmaceuticals) into the sewage system;
- monitoring pandemics (i.e. COVID-19) and the effectiveness of the taken measures at reduced time.
High Resolution Mass Spectrometry (HRMS) is a powerful technique that can open new perspectives in the WBE field, since it has many different applications in wastewater as it allows the wide-scope screening of a large variety of compounds, metabolites and transformation products.
The NTS-EXPOSURE project aims to develop a novel methodology in order to assess the health status of a population in specific areas (i.e. city). The unique characteristics of HRMS combined with the potential of the innovative WBE approach can give us the capability to provide crucial data on population exposure, stress, disease or health.
Humans are continuously exposed to toxicants by different routes, with potentially adverse effects on human health. Monitoring population exposure is a crucial part of public health programs and HBM is the most widely used and powerful tool to evaluate the exposure of a population. These data are vital for health impact assessment and to support environmental and health policy-making in public health programs. However, novel approaches are needed in order to give additional information on exposure at population level and overcome the limitations of HBM studies. In this project, the innovative WBE approach is proposed as an alternative “biomonitoring tool” for the retrieval of epidemiological information from wastewater through the analysis of specific human urinary metabolites (biomarkers). Although WBE has been studied the last fifteen years, its application has been limited to target analytical methods and a few classes of compounds (i.e. illicit drugs and pharmaceuticals).
New methodologies such as the powerful HRMS technique can opens new perspectives in the WBE field. The unique characteristics of HRMS combined with the potential of the WBE approach can give us the capability to provide valuable information for public health. Indeed, influent wastewater contains a wide range of chemical information about biological processes of the human body, which can be explored by the latest advances of HRMS and provide crucial data. The main objective is to develop non-target screening analytical methods based on HRMS coupled to liquid and gas chromatography that can detect new wastewater biomarkers and assess the collective consumption or exposure to toxicants. This project can establish and implement an integrated chemical analytical-epidemiological approach for the acquirement of crucial information and inform authorities and public health organizations on community health status.