Clean water is a vital component for the existence of life and the quality of the water flowing into the environment from human activities (wastewater) influences the quality of life, the health of people, and the environment in which we live. Wastewater produced by human activity is part of the circle of life and, in Israel, treated wastewater is vital for agriculture and growing food; in other countries treated wastewater is used as an important source for supplying drinking water and the survival of animals in the wild. Wastewater is not only an important source of water but also a source of data and with its assistance, the quality of life and health of residents can be improved.
In every city, there are networks of underground systems of pipes that collect wastewater from homes, factories, restaurants, and other businesses. This wastewater system is in effect a very complicated network, in which valuable data flows–information about business activity in the city, manufacturing processes in factories, the health of the residents, which viruses and bacteria lurk, and even data about the mental health of the population, as hormones that are secreted in stressful situations are released. In practice, it is possible to learn a lot from the data that flows in the wastewater system about what is happening in the city.
Today, the world marks World Water Day. Due to recent yet significant technological progress that utilizes artificial intelligence (AI), it has been proven that the health situation of a community can be demonstrated with the assistance of analyzing data from wastewater. Israel is a world leader in the field of water technology, and it is no coincidence that this breakthrough capability has come from there. In a series of tests conducted by the Technion, Ben Gurion University and the Ministry of Health, it was proven that the quality of life and health of the community can be improved with the assistance of data from wastewater. This data teaches us about changes in health, from identifying viruses and diseases in the community, to understanding changes regarding nutrition, quality of life, use of medications, and more. The technology enables us to know about phenomena that were not known at a community level (1,000-10,000 residents) and enable residents to adapt their lifestyle according to the health situation in their environment. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) vision is that health data will be accessible just like data about the weather.
Data about wastewater also allows for the improvement of the environment, the quality of our food, and the quality of life. Using advanced algorithms and AI, today we can detect unusual situations in the wastewater, such as effluents from factories, and identify the source of the flow in real-time to provide warning, to prevent damage to streams and bathing beaches.
Wastewater purification is part of the solution for the shortage of water worldwide. The quality of the wastewater flowing to the purification plant influences the ability to recycle it for re-use at competitive prices. Receiving data in real-time from the wastewater network and analyzing it is the key to efficient treatment of the water, for recycling, and ultimately preventing incidents and providing a practical option for protecting communities and public health.
Israel is a leading country worldwide for using information about wastewater systems and in Israel, many cities recycle wastewater for safe use in agriculture, with the assistance of Israeli technology for analyzing data from sewage. Wastewater in Israel also represents a source of information for managing public health and for the past few months the Ministry of Health has been leading a national project to monitor COVID-19 in wastewater, which helps to locate foci of outbreaks in the earliest stages and presents a reliable picture of the situation for decision-makers.
There is an upward trend of global breakthrough technology for using wastewater information to improve the quality of life, and the use of AI in wastewater allows us to produce a mirror image of what is happening in underground wastewater, and what is happening above ground in terms of environment and health. Data about the use of drugs in the community and identifying AR/AMR diseases that antibiotics no longer help, increased use of medicines, or specific use of antidepressant drugs, can all teach us about the state of the health of a population, both mental and physical, in a certain region. Sewage can teach us where there are high residues of caffeine in the wastewater and specific components in the diet.
It's possible to detect all this from the data in the wastewater, so many organizations should use it to decide where to focus their resources, without any privacy infringement; the data gathered from wastewater is regional and indicates trends –it does not violate privacy, yet it provides an understanding of the habits and health of the community.
The data, the insights, and the statistics that wastewater provides about the characteristics of a population and the environment make wastewater a significant asset for improving the quality of life and protecting public health and the environment. Soon we will be able to get an update on our health status through data from wastewater, in the same way, that we are used to getting updates about the weather.
Written by Ari Goldfarb, CEO, and founder Kando