Harnessing the trillion-dollar infrastructure of U.S. wastewater treatment plants, One Water One Health utilizes a technology called wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) to pinpoint harmful chemicals in communities across America and halt their environmental and human impacts. The team envisions a nationwide wastewater monitoring network that would provide near real-time information on the use of toxic chemicals. By sampling community wastewater, the method adapts existing infrastructure to quickly build an early detection system for environmental stressors. These “pollution observatories” would allow the team to study the behavior of pollutants, identify problematic persisting chemicals, and formulate appropriate interventions. One Water One Health’s tools are particularly useful for underserved communities that suffer from environmental injustice. Depending on the number of treatment plants in a given city, for example, toxic inventories and exposures can be obtained on a neighborhood scale at very low cost—a type of analysis that’s economically impractical using traditional methods. Through their approach, the team has already discovered that two antimicrobial chemicals were overlooked environmental pollutants. (Both substances have since been banned from the U.S. market.) By alerting residents to risky chemicals in their communities in near real-time, One Water One Health can avert catastrophic health crises while equipping citizens with new tools to advance environmental equity.
The mission of One Water One Health (OWOH) is to provide a proactive approach for measuring environmental threats and human health status at the population level by leveraging chemical indicators and biomarkers detectable in community wastewater and municipal sewage sludge. Similar to providing blood, urine, or feces samples for clinical health analysis, we utilize the composited version of these materials to provide actionable, robust data on environmental quality, sustainability, and human health outcomes related to pollution. Our nonprofit was created to help underserved and economically challenged communities across the United States take control and protect natural resources and community health.
One Water One Health was conceived from the realization that wastewater can provide a window for observing environmental pollution, unwanted exposures, and adverse human health outcomes in real time. After discovering the antimicrobial triclocarban as a priority environmental pollutant and subsequently achieving a nationwide ban in the U.S., we realized the power that wastewater holds for protecting our natural resources, for avoiding pollution, and for preventing unnecessary human suffering. OWOH operates on the front lines of environmental stewardship by diagnosing hazards in real-time, informing on unwanted exposures, and providing the data needed for stopping the production and release of harmful agents into the environment.
The biggest challenge to accomplishing the mission of OWOH is the degree to which unsustainable chemicals and products already have permeated the marketplace, our environment, and our bodies. We now need to move quickly and decisively to counteract harm done in the past and to avoid pollution-derived problems in the future, from water pollution to climate change. We aim to bring new tools in real-time diagnostics for environmental quality assessment to the marketplace and to communities-at-risk, but environmental hazards are many, unsustainable manufacturing practices are common, and time is running short.
We are inspired by the sweeping changes we have observed at our nonprofit’s birthplace, Arizona State University, and in our home city of Tempe, where an educational enterprise has demonstrated that access to, and excellence in, education are not mutually exclusive, and where city leaders have bravely harnessed wastewater-based epidemiology to give city dwellers real-time information on substance use and misuse by way of a real-time public health dashboard. This has inspired us to take on even bigger nationwide problems, including putting an end to the mass production of unsustainable plastics and persistent organohalogens that are embedded in most consumer products today.
The average citizen, you and me! We all are at risk from environmental threats, but we are mostly uninformed about hazards in our immediate living environment and we often feel helpless. OWOH aims to change that. Everyone’s problems are the problems we seek to solve. And a lack of information and transparency should not serve as an enabling basis for ongoing environmental pollution and human suffering. So many people needlessly live in a degraded environment and suffer from diseases of environmental origins, from allergies to behavioral disorders to reproductive health issues and cancer. These everyday people are who we rise for every morning.
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