Wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) is set to revolutionise the way we understand and measure the health of people. WBE involves the analysis of wastewater for markers of public health like drug metabolites and infectious diseases. WBE can tell us about substances that are being consumed and in what quantities, and is used to alert us to the arrival of particularly dangerous substances.


WBE also enables us to map the spread infectious disease between regions, cities and suburbs, and reveal how disease spreads through time. We have established a network of WBE across NZ which acts as an early warning system for Covid-19 infection in the community. Our data has been used to make decisions at the highest levels of government and prepares us in the event of a future epidemic such as flu.


We also use WBE for public health surveillance to help direct policy and reduce inequalities and harm associated with drug use and disease. Surveillance raises questions of privacy, autonomy, equity, power and control. People have been mostly comfortable using community-scale surveillance to manage pathogens. However, surveillance can also lead to pernicious outcomes and be part of control and coercion. Red Door does the academic work implied by responsible surveillance through an authentic engagement with work on ethics, morals and values.

Read more in a recent issue of Water

Recent publications
Trowsdale, S., Gilpin, B., Sila, N., Hewitt, J., & Price, M. (2022). Establishing New Zealand’s national pathogen surveillance system using wastewater-based epidemiology. Journal of Hydrology (New Zealand), 61(1), 77–91.

Price, M., & Trowsdale, S. (2022). The ethics of wastewater surveillance for public health. Journal of Hydrology (New Zealand), 61(1), 59–75. 

Trowsdale, S., Price, M., Wilkins, C., Tscharke, B., Mueller, J., & Baker, T. (2021). Quantifying nicotine and alcohol consumption in New Zealand using wastewater-based epidemiology timed to coincide with census. Drug and Alcohol Review, 40(7), 1178–1185.

Price, M., Wilkins, C., Tscharke, B. J., Baker, T., Mueller, J. F., & Trowsdale, S. (2021). Spatial, temporal and socioeconomic patterns of illicit drug use in New Zealand assessed using wastewater-based epidemiology timed to coincide with the census. The New Zealand Medical Journal, 134(1537), 11–26.