Saturday, May 3, 2008

Community Urinalysis

In the March 2008 issue of Popular Science, Eric Hagerman wrote Your Sewer on Drugs about how local sewage is being tested for evidence of illegal drug use within certain towns. From this practice, alternatively known as community urinalysis and sewer epidemiology, the proponents hope to be able to pinpoint which anti-drug campaigns are working or the best placement of these programs.

[FYI: Sewer, sewage, sewerage: sewer is any conduit used to transport wastewater or rainwater, sewage refers to the liquid and solid waste material carried in the sewer conduits; sewerage is the system of conduits.]

This is another blatant case of government sponsored market analysis to support nanny-state programs. I suppose it is a step up from the earlier, less successful bid to study the transport, fate, and effects of personal care products on the environment through sewer epidemiology. That would just rub too many people the wrong way, causing chafing and thus, more personal care product usage.

From a strictly epidemiological standpoint, I think that sewage testing can yield important results regarding the presence of germs and possibly viruses (I don’t know the current levels of testability for these tiny trouble-makers). I’ve yet to be convinced that drug use is a disease, and moreover, that even monitoring the spread of incontrovertible diseases in order to stop mass illness or deaths is a proper function of the government.

I’m left wondering: in the case of an epidemic, other than quarantining individuals known to have the disease, is there any action which should be taken by the government?


Stephen Bourque said...

I'm not sure if the referenced article intended it, but they chose a suitably sinister picture. The underlighting casts menacing shadows on the man's face, and his orange jumpsuit suggests both the hazard of the materials he works with as well as the coldness and monolithic uniformity of government agents.

Lynne said...

I thought the picture was cool. It ought to have the caption: "Vhat's lurkink in da sewah?"

And if I've said it once, I've said it a million times, it's all about the lighting!