Population Normalization with Ammonium in Wastewater-Based Epidemiology: Application to Illicit Drug Monitoring
Fluctuations in ammonium (NH4+), measured as NH4-N loads using an ion-selective electrode installed at the inlet of a sewage treatment plant, showed a distinctive pattern which was associated to weekly (i.e., commuters) and seasonal (i.e., holidays) fluctuations of the population. Moreover, population size estimates based on NH4-N loads were lower compared to census data. Diurnal profiles of benzoylecgonine (BE) and 11-nor-9-carboxy-Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC–COOH) were shown to be strongly correlated to NH4–N. Characteristic patterns, which reflect the prolonged nocturnal activity of people during the weekend, could be observed for BE, cocaine, and a major metabolite of MDMA (i.e., 4-hydroxy-3-methoxymethamphetamine). Additional 24 h composite samples were collected between February and September 2013. Per-capita loads (i.e., grams per day per 1000 inhabitants) were computed using census data and NH4–N measurements. Normalization with NH4-N did not modify the overall pattern, suggesting that the magnitude of fluctuations in the size of the population is negligible compared to those of illicit drug loads. Results show that fluctuations in the size of the population over longer periods of time or during major events can be monitored using NH4-N loads: either using raw NH4-N loads or population size estimates based on NH4-N loads, if information about site-specific NH4-N population equivalents is available.