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Sci Total Environ. 2012 Jan 1;414:6-21. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2011.11.015. Epub 2011 Dec 1.

Real-time estimation of small-area populations with human biomarkers in sewage.

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Environmental Sciences Division, National Exposure Research Laboratory, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 944 East Harmon Avenue, Las Vegas, NV 89119, USA.


A new approach is conceptualized for measuring small-area human populations by using biomarkers in sewage. The basis for the concept (SCIM: Sewage Chemical-Information Mining) is supported by a comprehensive examination and synthesis of data published across several disciplines, including medicine, microbiology, clinical chemistry, and environmental science. Accurate measures of human populations are fundamental to numerous disciplines, including economics, marketing, politics, sociology, public health and safety (e.g., disease management; assessment of natural hazards; disaster prevention and response), quality of life, and the environment. Knowing the size, distribution, and flow of a small-area (local) population facilitates understanding the numerous and complex linkages and interactions between humans and the environment. Examples include material-flow (substance-flow) analysis, determining the magnitude of per capita contribution of pollutant loadings to watersheds, or forecasting future impacts of local populations on the environment or a population's demands on resources. While no definitive approach exists for measuring small-area populations, census-taking is a long-established convention. No approach exists, however, for gauging small-area populations in real-time, as none is able to capture population dynamics, which involve transient changes (e.g., daily influx and efflux) and lasting changes (e.g., births, deaths, change in residence). Accurate measurement of small-area populations in real time has never been possible but is essential for facilitating the design of more sustainable communities. Real-time measurement would provide communities the capability of testing what-if scenarios in design and policy decisions. After evaluation of a range of biomarkers (including the nitrogenous waste product creatinine, which has been long used in clinical chemistry as a parameter to normalize the concentrations of other urinary excretion products to account for urine dilution), the biomarker with the most potential for the SCIM concept for real-time measurement of population was determined to be coprostanol - the major sterol produced by microbial reduction of cholesterol in the colon.

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