Projects / Programmes source: ARRS


Research activity

Code Science Field Subfield
1.08.00  Natural sciences and mathematics  Control and care of the environment   

Code Science Field
P305  Natural sciences and mathematics  Environmental chemistry 

Code Science Field
1.05  Natural Sciences  Earth and related Environmental sciences 
wastewater based epidemiology, wastewater, biomarker, illicit drug, licit drugs, tobacco, alcohol, treatment, stable isotope, catchment vulnerability
Evaluation (rules)
source: COBISS
Researchers (15)
no. Code Name and surname Research area Role Period No. of publicationsNo. of publications
1.  19443  PhD Nataša Atanasova  Engineering sciences and technologies  Researcher  2018 - 2022  239 
2.  27975  PhD Urška Blaznik  Medical sciences  Researcher  2018 - 2022  182 
3.  31995  PhD Martin Gazvoda  Natural sciences and mathematics  Researcher  2018 - 2022  169 
4.  52125  Tjaša Gornik  Natural sciences and mathematics  Technician  2018 - 2020  25 
5.  12315  PhD Ester Heath  Natural sciences and mathematics  Researcher  2018 - 2022  565 
6.  14633  Ada Hočevar Grom  Medical sciences  Researcher  2018 - 2022  382 
7.  25622  PhD David Kocman  Natural sciences and mathematics  Researcher  2018 - 2022  332 
8.  34230  PhD Sabina Kolbl Repinc  Engineering sciences and technologies  Researcher  2018 - 2022  100 
9.  27733  PhD Tina Kosjek  Natural sciences and mathematics  Principal Researcher  2018 - 2022  334 
10.  13822  PhD Janez Košmrlj  Natural sciences and mathematics  Researcher  2018 - 2022  496 
11.  39144  PhD Ana Kovačič  Natural sciences and mathematics  Researcher  2019 - 2022  56 
12.  33157  PhD Marko Krivec  Natural sciences and mathematics  Researcher  2019  56 
13.  11279  PhD Nives Ogrinc  Natural sciences and mathematics  Researcher  2018 - 2022  1,080 
14.  38496  PhD Doris Potočnik  Natural sciences and mathematics  Researcher  2018 - 2022  171 
15.  03950  PhD Dušan Žigon  Natural sciences and mathematics  Researcher  2018 - 2022  164 
Organisations (4)
no. Code Research organisation City Registration number No. of publicationsNo. of publications
1.  0103  University of Ljubljana, Faculty of Chemistry and Chemical Technology  Ljubljana  1626990  22,070 
2.  0106  Jožef Stefan Institute  Ljubljana  5051606000  85,913 
3.  0792  University of Ljubljana, Faculty of Civil and Geodetic Engineering  Ljubljana  1626981  26,019 
4.  3333  National Institut of Public Health  Ljubljana  6462642  17,756 
Wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) is an innovative approach to estimating exposure to external substances in defined populations by analyzing human metabolic excretion products (biomarkers) in wastewater. WBE can deliver complementary information concerning the use of different substances of abuse. In Europe, this kind of research has been ongoing since 2010, however in Slovenia these studies are yet to be performed. This project will correct this by determining selected biomarkers of illicit and licit drugs in influents from WWTP servicing five important Slovenian urban populations. It will compare the results with sale, seizure and consumption data and the findings used to assess the community health and a comparison will be made with WBE data from European cities. In addition to illicit and licit drugs, new psychoactive substances will be identified to aid in their early detection in order to minimize their potential harms, trafficking and to support law enforcement. To minimize uncertainties in WBE, we will apply stable isotope analysis to differentiate between compounds having the same chemical formula, but different isotopic composition, (parent compound/metabolite) or different synthesis/production routes, since stable isotope composition differs according to the source of production. This approach is novel but has the potential to increase greatly the accuracy of drug estimation in WBE. The main point source of these compounds in the environment are wastewaters. To understand their fate and effects in the environment, we must understand removal of these substances during wastewater treatment. For this purpose, five Slovene WWTP with different configuration and size will be studied and removal efficiencies evaluated. New knowledge will not only be important for Slovenian WWTP, but will also allow a comparison with globally available data for conventional WWT and fill in knowledge gaps concerning alternative treatment practices. This will stimulate further research in optimization and innovation in treatment technologies. We will also attempt to determine concentrations of these substances in receiving waters, where they are usually present in sub ng/L levels. Determining their low levels will be achieved by using novel passive samplers delivering time-weighted average (TWA) concentrations of the studied biomarkers. The outcomes of this task will contribute towards understanding mechanisms and feasibility of passive sampling in evaluating occurrence of compounds of interest in environmental waters and the development of these samplers will feed directly back into performing more reliable WBE. To get an insight into the toxicity of identified biomarkers, we will apply modelling with ECOSAR (Ecological Structure Activity Relationship) software. The obtained information will fill in information gaps on selected drug effects and harms towards aquatic organisms and stimulate research addressing chronic effects of mixtures of compounds at environmental levels. Finally, vulnerability of water catchment will be evaluated using catchment specific characteristics that influence surface-groundwater interactions and temporal and spatial variability of parameters effecting the dilution factor. As a case study, the interactions between surface and groundwater in the Ljubljansko polje aquifer will be simulated using different models and will result in an assessment of groundwater vulnerability.   This project has numerous elements of novelty. Interdisciplinary and high applicability of this project is shown by collaboration of 4 Slovenian research institutions with 5 co-financiers, 9 end-users, 4 international research institutions and the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction. All our partners have excellent references, the equipment and have successfully completed major projects, all of which is a sound basis for carrying out the proposed research.
Significance for science
Relevance to the development of science WBE has been widely applied worldwide, while for Slovenia, this is the first attempt to become directly involved in this field. This may appear that this project has only limited relevance to the development of science. However, we apply several novel elements to WBE, which will add significantly to the field. The first is the novel application of stable isotopes to determine more accurately the source of a certain drug, i.e., if the determined compound (morphine) originates from heroin (morphine is a biomarker of heroin from substance abuse) or parent compound (morphine as the drug) and potentially the actual origin of the drugs produced (place of production or synthesis). This extra level of information provided by the novel application of stable isotopes can have a significant impact on WBE based studies.   In addition, we will also deploy for the first-time novel passive samplers (e.g. DGT) to see if they can be a cost-effective monitoring tool that can provide TWA of illicit and licit drug biomarkers in aqueous samples. In this study, we will apply an alternative passive sampler design that will overcome the limitations identified in their current POCIS application, i.e., POCIS shows limited performance due to limited diffusion of analytes through POCIS membrane. The application of passive samplers in WW and surface waters analysis should improve the performance (simple and cheaper application) and reduce limits of detection (concentration of analyte).   Part of the project will also assess treatment efficiencies of WWTPs. We are fortunate to collaborate (and be co-financed) with the 5 most important Slovene WWTP with a different configuration (conventional activated sludge and advanced treatments). To date, characterization of treatment efficiency for compounds of interest has mostly been assessed only for conventional biological treatment. Data for advanced treatments will significantly contribute towards worldwide knowledge on treatment efficiency, especially because the task will be approached systematically on a weekly basis in different seasons. This will be further expanded to the study of catchment vulnerability and the risk posed by selected compounds in the environment.
Significance for the country
Direct impact of the project for the economy and society Illicit and licit drug abuse and misuse remains a major societal and economic burden. WBE as a way of monitoring illicit and licit drug biomarkers in wastewaters has already proven itself in many European countries. This project will in Slovenia extend WBE to 5 major Slovene municipalities producing comprehensive data on the occurrence of drug biomarkers in wastewaters and drug consumption patterns i.e., regional, temporal and health related trends and external influences like tourism, which presently are not available. It will also allow a comparison with over 50 European cities (SCORE project). It will also reduce duplication of efforts, accelerate developments and fill existing scientific, technological and regional data gaps. Such high value complementary data will be invaluable for combating drug abuse in Slovenia. Dissemination of new unbiased perspectives of scientific knowledge to health authorities, decision makers and the public will lead to more focused/optimized public health strategies and intervention measures (guidelines, standards and regulations for harmonized risk assessment and management at national and European level) and for the development of improved monitoring (early warning) tools and more effective use of resources. The impact will be improved legislation and public health policy at the national and European level that will better alleviate society from the consequences (health, crime and economic) of substance abuse. The project will also begin to look at the efficiency of WWTP which will lead to improvements in said technologies and to reduce the overall burden on the environment that will be of benefit to humans and ecosystem health.
Most important scientific results Interim report
Most important socioeconomically and culturally relevant results Interim report
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