Drugs in waste water and household waste

Household Hazardous Waste

Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) (also referred to as domestic hazardous waste) is waste that is generated from residential households. HHW only applies to wastes that are the result of the use of materials that are labeled for and sold for “home use” and that are purchased by homeowners or tenants for use in a residential household.

The following list includes categories often applied to HHW. It is important to note that many of these categories overlap and that many household wastes can fall into multiple categories:

  • Paints and solvents
  • Automotive wastes (used motor oil, antifreeze, old gasoline, etc.)
  • Pesticides (insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, etc.)
  • Mercury-containing wastes (thermometers, switches, fluorescent lighting, etc.)
  • Electronics (computers, televisions, cell phones)
  • Aerosols / Propane cylinders
  • Caustics / Cleaning agents
  • Refrigerant-containing appliances
  • Batteries
  • Ammunition

Radioactive waste (some home smoke detectors are classified as radioactive waste because they contain very small amounts of a radioactive isotope of americium.

Waste in the USA

As a nation, Americans generate more waste than any other nation in the world with 4.5 pounds (2.04 kg) of municipal solid waste (MSW) per person per day, fifty five percent of which is contributed as residential garbage. The remaining forty five percent of waste in the U.S.’s ‘waste stream’ comes from manufacturing, retailing, and commercial trade in the U.S. economy.[1] Based on proprietary data released to the public, Nevada was named America’s “Most Wasteful State” for the years 2005-2010; where each resident threw away over 14 pounds of non-recycled, unreused items, often ending up into landfills and incinerators per day, eight pounds over the national state daily throwaway average.

Drugs in waste water

When people take drugs, they end up in the water, either unchanged or broken down into specific metabolites. Increasingly, water can be tested to gauge how much drug use is going on in an area, and a new study shows that the level of illegal drugs being used in a community can be tested in real time, and potentially applied to help police narcotic use.

Before the advent of this type of testing, dubbed “sewage epidemiology,” drug usage was generally estimated by surveys, crime statistics, narcotics seizures and other self-reported information. But by analyzing the amount and type of drugs in wastewater, as done in this study, researchers can more accurately detect usage rates, find hotspots for abuse, and potentially measure the effectiveness of police countermeasures.

In the study, scientists searched for six illicit drugs (and their metabolites) in two wastewater plants, one serving a small and another a slightly larger community near Albany, N.Y. And drugs did they find, after testing the water each day for a week. In fact, the researchers detected cocaine in 93 percent of the untreated water samples. Based on the relative level of cocaine’s metabolites, they determined that most of the drug ended up there via human excretion, rather than direct disposal. So it doesn’t appear that a lot of people in Albany are flushing coke down the toilet in a panic. Drug levels remained relatively constant throughout the testing.

Morphine was found in 100 percent of the untreated water

Surprisingly, at least to me, morphine was found in 100 percent of the untreated water(!). The human body breaks down heroin into morphine and other chemicals, and this may be where the morphine is coming from, although the researchers don’t specifically say in the study, published in Environmental Science and Technology. For what it’s worth, the average concentrations of morphine found in the water “was 2.7–3.6 times lower than those reported earlier from the USA and the UK, but 3.0 times higher than those reported in Spain,” the authors noted.

The study also found low levels of the designer drug 3,4-Methylenedioxyamphetamine (also known as MDA) and ecstasy, or MDMA.

Testing for drugs in public water supplies has revealed a slew of interesting findings in the past few years. A study earlier this year found, for example, that in tests of water from a campus in Washington, “amphetamine levels go through the roof during finals,” University of Puget Sound researcher Dan Burgard told Environmental Health News. Other tests have revealed trends in various countries, as the site noted:

  • In London, cocaine and ecstasy spike on weekends while methadone is used more consistently.
  • In Italy, cocaine use has declined while use of marijuana and amphetamines has increased.
  • In Sweden and Finland, people use more amphetamines and methamphetamines and less cocaine than other European cities. Also, in Finland, stimulants were more common in large cities.
  • In Zagreb, Croatia, marijuana and heroin were the most commonly found illicit drugs, but cocaine and ecstasy showed up more frequently on weekends.
  • In Oregon, cocaine and ecstasy are more common in urban than in rural wastewater according to a 2009 study.

Another study published last month in the journal Addiction looked at drugs in the water in 42 European cities. And it found that people in Antwerp, Belgium, love drugs. The research “revealed traces of cocaine, amphetamines, cannabis, and ecstasy in Antwerp’s sewage—all at levels among the highest of [the] European cities tested,” Bloomberg Businessweek noted.

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