Tempe OKs funding to monitor wastewater for opioid use

Tempe OKs funding to monitor wastewater for opioid use

May 24, 2018

  • Varun P. Kelkar, Joshua C. Steele and Erin M. Driver

    (From left) Varun P. Kelkar, Joshua C. Steele and Erin M. Driver examine a wastewater sampling point in Tempe. 


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  • Varun P. Kelkar, Joshua C. Steele and Erin M. Driver

    Pictured, left to right: Varun Kelkar, ASU Biodesign researcher; Adam Gushgari, ASU Biodesign researcher; Mayor Mark Mitchell;  Joshua Steele, ASU Biodesign researcher; Rolf Halden, director Biodesign Center for Environmental Health Engineering; Erin Driver, ASU Biodesign researcher; Tempe Councilmember Lauren Kuby;  Councilmember Joel Navarro


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May 24, 2018

Tempe City Council voted last Thursday to provide $35,000 from the Tempe Innovation Fund to embark on an anonymized monitoring system that will reveal the presence of opioids, cocaine, alcohol, marijuana and other health-threatening substances in the city’s wastewater. According to Tempe officials, the immediate goal of this new partnership is to achieve an end to opioid-related deaths and overdoses. The university will provide matching funds of $35,000.

“Pairing the data from this wastewater program with the opioid map will help us pinpoint where to send the necessary resources to help people overcome addiction,” said Tempe City Councilmember Joel Navarro. “This research could help save lives.”

Navarro is a firefighter who has seen the effects of opioid abuse firsthand. He is also chair of the Regional Opioid Action Plan Committee, a group of government representatives, non-profit agencies, churches and healthcare experts.

"With their vote yesterday, the city of Tempe has become the de-facto thought leader in public health among cities across the United States,” said Rolf Halden, an Arizona State University (ASU) environmental engineer and professor in the Ira A. Fulton School for Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, who will lead the effort. Halden’s technology is being used in more than 300 cities across the world, but the Tempe project will be the first civic-university public health partnership; one in which the researchers and city officials will work together to extract data, review results and work collaboratively to refine the process, and  identify and implement effective solutions.


Because samples are taken from sewage lines carrying waste of thousands of people, the samples cannot be linked to any one individual. The anonymity of the process and detected drug types and quantities deliver results that are far more reliable than personal surveys or other methods.

“This is about the health of an entire city,” said Adam Gushgari, postdoctoral research associate in Halden’s Biodesign Center for Environmental Health Engineering at ASU’s Biodesign Institute. “As public health researchers and professional engineers, we study populations, not individuals. When we draw a sample of city wastewater, it always represents an anonymous composite from typically thousands to even hundreds of thousands of residents, with no way of linking obtained data to any one particular person.”

Halden’s Human Health Observatory is the largest archive of wastewater samples in the nation and worldwide and has been used in the past to change U.S. policy. Halden’s team previously used wastewater and human cohort studies to bring to light the detrimental effects of harmful antimicrobials, such as triclosan and triclocarban. Following his call for national and international legal action, the Food and Drug Administration banned the use of these chemicals in personal care products last September.

No additional sample collection is necessary, as Tempe public works staff already follow a regular schedule for compliance monitoring. With his lab located on ASU’s Tempe campus, Rolf’s team will receive the samples and provide results in near real time. Halden’s process uses tandem mass spectrometry, which can isolate and identify concentrations of specific opioids, including morphine, codeine, oxycodone, heroin and fentanyl. Measured concentrations of opioids are then converted to pounds per day per population to estimate the amount of drugs used in an area, the number of drug abusers, and even the number of overdoses.

With the addition of this project, Tempe is likely to emerge as a role model for other cities across Arizona and the U.S. In addition to the new project, in February of this year, the City of Tempe launched an Opioid Abuse Dashboard, which documents public safety calls where use of opioids is likely.

The wastewater data will be weighed alongside the Arizona Youth Survey’s report which asks youth, 18 and younger, if they use tobacco, alcohol, marijuana or other illegal drugs.

For the 2017-18 fiscal year budget, the City of Tempe established a one-time, non-recurring Innovation Fund of $500,000, designed to encourage and promote new and creative ideas that significantly improve the community and position Tempe as an innovator.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT THE WORK OF THE BIODESIGN CENTER FOR ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH ENGINEERING:

The Biodesign Institute at ASU integrates diverse fields of science to cure and prevent disease, overcome the limitations of injury, renew the environment and improve national security. By fusing research in biology, engineering, medicine, physics, information technology and cognitive science, the institute accelerates discoveries into uses that can be adopted rapidly by the private sector. For information, visit www.biodesign.asu.edu

 

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Tempe Wastewater Sampling Point

 

 

Written by: Dianne Price