Environment and Human Health: Current challenges to support the EU One Health ambition

Thousands of anthropogenic contaminants of emerging concern (CECs) are released from diffuse and point sources in surface waters mainly due to their incomplete removal during the processes that are applied in Wastewater Treatment Plants (WWTPs). Consequently, the most persistent compounds, as well as metabolites and transformation products of CECs, end up in freshwater reservoirs, groundwater and even drinking water, are distributed in various environmental compartments and are bioaccumulated through the food chain in the upper trophic levels. The European Commission, aiming to protect the environment, adopted the EU One Health Action Plan, which emphasizes that human, animal and environmental health are indissolubly connected. Biomonitoring data, using apex predators, can be used as an early warning system on the occurrence of CECs in the environment, through the prioritization of the detected compounds for risk assessment and through the evaluation of regulation and mitigation measures effectiveness, thus, helping chemicals’ management at a European level. Therefore, the systematic monitoring of CECs using state-of-the-art analytical instrumentation, advanced screening workflows and chemometric tools are required for the protection of the environment. These methodologies are being applied since 2016 for the determination of priority pollutants and emerging contaminants of the Black Sea, for the Joint Danube River programme and for the monitoring of several European and national rivers. Through the implementation of the LIFE APEX project (2018-2022), a first pan-European biomonitoring study using apex predators and prey samples was implemented, revealing the ubiquitous presence of thousands of organic contaminants. Moreover, strong collaborations with OSPAR and HELCOM Commissions have been established since 2019, for advanced chemical analysis in biota (including marine mammals) and sediments of the North Sea and the Baltic Sea, respectively.

In addition, Wastewater-based Epidemiology (WBE) is a rapidly developing scientific approach, with the potential for monitoring real-time data on illicit and licit drug consumption, chemical exposure and public health, providing geographical and temporal trends. It is a non-invasive, chemical tool that it is also been used widely over the last 20 years to reflect the effect of socioeconomic changes and public health crisis on  population’s mental and physical health. Over the last 2 years, WBE has gained attention, by providing the framework for COVID-19 prevalence at a community level through wastewater surveillance. SARS-CoV-2 traces, parent drugs and their metabolites end up in wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) and their determination in influents provides data about COVID-19 prevalence and drugs consumption, supporting public health authorities with valuable data. Biomarkers of public health were identified and quantified from 2010 until today in the WWTP of Attica. Mass Spectrometric methodologies accompanied by novel data treatment tools were used to identify known and unknown compounds. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic has been monitored daily by qPCR and sequencing methodologies since 2020 by analyzing influent wastewater from the WWTP of Attica.