Tempe partners with ASU to study city wastewater to monitor public health

Posted at 9:07 PM, May 25, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-26 01:20:23-04

The City of Tempe is partnering with researchers at Arizona State University to study the wastewater of its residents to monitor public health and combat opioid abuse. 

"The sewage doesn't lie," said Rolf Halden, Director of the University's Center for Environmental Health Engineering. "The information we get from wastewater is robust information." 

Samples are collected on a daily basis from the wastewater treatment center. Halden said all "droppings" are anonymous and each will represent tens of thousands of residents. 

“We have an opportunity to measure, essentially, most of the people in Tempe but we can also, kind of, zero in on neighborhoods of concern,” Halden said. 

By comparing the results with the city's existing Opioid Dashboard, Halden and city leaders hope the data will help them direct resources to the appropriate neighborhoods. 

In a test at ASU, he said the results confirmed what many assume -- a rise in alcohol use over the weekends and a spike in performance-enhancing drugs, like Adderall, during finals week. 

“This is truly a remarkable milestone, and I think it could be a pivoting point in how we manage public health,” Halden said. 

ASU and the city are each spending around $35,000 on the study.