It isn’t new to test municipal wastewater for nitrogen, phosphorus or chemical oxygen demand, but using wastewater to gauge drug use among the public is a new avenue for Canada’s top statistics agency.
As legislation is drafted to legalize cannabis in Canada for summer 2018, researchers at Statistics Canada (StatCan) have issued a tender seeking a company that can analyze the wastewater of some 15 to 20 municipalities on a monthly basis to record data on cannabis consumption.
The analysis of THC metabolites found in urine within the wastewater would occur just prior to legalization and thereafter for comparison, StatCan says. The main metabolite likely to be analyzed would be 11-nor-delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol-9-carboxylic acid (Delta-9-THC-COOH). THC drug tests typically yield a positive result when the concentration of cannabis in urine exceeds 50 ng/mL. Most researchers agree that about 15 to 20% of a Delta-9 THC dose ends up eliminated through urine.
“The supplier will be responsible for assisting municipalities in the implementation of appropriate sampling techniques, in performing the analyses, and in communicating the results to the agency,” states the StatCan tender. “The analysis will be for cannabis metabolites, and may include other drugs as well.”
According to the tender, suppliers “must be compliant with the standards established by the European SCORE network (Sewage analysis CORe group – Europe), which are the only existing international standards for wastewater analysis.” In particular, the supplier’s laboratory must be accredited by the SCORE network, according to StatCan.
The testing is expected to cost up to $600,000 per year, and could run as long as three years if testing quality meets the agency’s expectations.
While the move to test wastewater for drugs is new to many people in Canada, it is not without precedent. Of particular note is a 2013 study by researchers from McGill University in Montreal, joined by researchers from Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario, who teamed up to test drug levels in the wastewater of their respective cities. Countries such as Australia have been spending millions of dollars for years on such testing programs. Lastly, in 2008, the U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health published a comprehensive study about the use of wastewater analysis for gauging drug use trends in countries such as Italy and the U.K.
In late 2017, Alberta-based supplier Aurora Cannabis Inc. invested in Micron Waste Technologies for the treatment of organic waste generated from its cultivation and production of cannabis products.
“Micron has developed a new technology, based on aerobic digestion and subsequent treatment, that converts organic waste into clean water that meets municipal effluent discharge standards,” Aurora Cannabis stated in a corporate announcement.
StatCan is not yet revealing which municipalities have already jumped on board with its planned THC testing program.
Bidding for the contract closed Feburary 26, 2018.