The chemicals in urban waste reflect what is happening in society, according to an University of Athens study that reveals the habits of Athenians during the first lockdown.

Among other things, there is a vertical increase in the use of detergents and antiseptics, a small increase in antidepressants, an increase in stimulant drugs such as amphetamines, methamphetamines and cocaine, but a significant reduction in smoking.

The study is entitled “N.Alygizakis,A.Galani,N.I.Rousis,etal.,Change in the chemical content of untreated wastewater of Athens, Greece under COVID-19 pandemic,Science of the Total Environment(2018).

The article was accepted for publication in the scientific journal Science of The Total Environment, which is one of the most reputable environmental journals with a global impact.

Research

The work investigated pre-coronavirus effluents and effluents during the first lockdown from the Psyttalia wastewater treatment center.

Samples were investigated for thousands of organic pollutants using sophisticated analytical instruments and computing tools.

Among the substances investigated were industrial substances (bisphenols, phthalates, polyfluorinated substances), surfactants contained in detergents, antimicrobials contained in antiseptics, plant protection substances, food additives, additives related to mental health (antidepressants).

Highlights

  • Findings reflect the effects of pandemic and social distancing.
  • Wastewater-based epidemiology was used to assess the exposure to various chemicals.
  • Significant changes in illicit drug consumption were observed.
  • Surfactants and biocides showed a notable increase 196% and 152%, respectively.
  • Significant reduction of the industrial chemicals (52%) due to business closure

Findings

  • The substances contained in the detergents showed a vertical increase (surfactants increased by + 196%, cationic quaternary ammonium surfactants increased by + 331%).
  • The substances contained in the antiseptic products showed a vertical increase in the lockdown conditions with an increase of + 152%
  • Industrial substances showed a significant drop (-52%), which is attributed to the freezing of industrial production and mainly of the chemical industry
  • Citizens were found to have reduced smoking (-33%), possibly influenced by the media and early scientific studies, which argued that smoking was associated with a higher risk of respiratory infections.
  • The lockdown, at least during the first weeks of the first lockdown, seemed to have a small negative effect on the psychology of citizens (increase of psychoactive substances by + 20%).
  • Mixed drug trends: drastic reduction of ecstasy (main reason for closing nightclubs), drastic reduction of heroin, small reduction for cannabis and increasing trends for stimulant drugs such as amphetamine, methamphetamine and cocaine.
  • Increased concentration of technical sweeteners and dietary supplements possibly associated with increased food consumption due to constant stay at home.

The authors of the research express their warm thanks to the managers of the wastewater treatment center Spyridon Dimoulas (EYDAP), Irakli Karagianni (EYDAP), as well as the staff of EYDAP and the employees at Psyttalia for the excellent cooperation.

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