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Environmental Health Sciences

Laboratory of Nutrition Toxicology

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The laboratory focuses on sources, presence, distribution and effects of environmental pollutants such as chemicals, drugs, personal care products, as well as food contaminants.

Starting from environmental data, we developed methods that allow to estimate consumption of psychoactive substances in the population through analysis of drug residues in urban wastewater.

This approach, called “wastewater-based epidemiology” (WBE) has been subsequently extended to measure consumption of other substances taken either voluntarily, such as alcohol, nicotine, caffeine and pharmaceuticals and involuntarily, such as food contaminants.

Recently we have also analysed SARS-CoV2 in wastewater with the aim to estimate population exposure to this virus. Studies on human nutrition are ongoing with the aim to reduce salt consumption through the diet, to promote the Mediterranean diet and to assess consumer exposure to food contaminants.


Identification and study of new contaminants

The laboratory sustained the identification and the description of some "emerging contaminants", such as those food and environmental contaminants that are not well known and controlled. It offers its contribution in the characterization of drugs as environmental contaminants and for the first time in the identification in the environment of abused drugs. Currently, projects aimed to monitoring these and other chemical substances for personal care are ongoing, in order to define sources and concentration, to assess the risks and to reduce their environmental impact. Another project of this group studies the relationship between the antibiotic environmental pollution and the development of bacterial resistance.

Assessments of the risk associated to contaminants both for the environment and for humans

Using data coming from environmental monitoring, the laboratory carries out risk assessments. Among contaminants analyzed, those able to exert side effects on aquatic fauna, at the concentrations indeed measured, are identified. Risk assessments are also performed considering the co-exposure of organisms to the different contaminants present in the hydrographic system, thus identifying which mixtures could alter the ecosystems balance. The laboratory also carries out risk assessments in humans evaluating the exposition through food chain and drinking water consumption, considering the effects of individual contaminants as well as mixtures.

Development and new applications of wastewater epidemiology

The laboratory developed innovative methodologies to evaluate the population consumption of psychoactive substances starting from the analysis of the metabolic residues in urban wastewater. The studies are conducted in the framework of a European network (www.score-network.eu) in collaboration with the European Monitoring Centre of Drugs and Drug Addiction. In addition to drugs of abuse, the consumption of alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, pharmaceuticals and more recently of new psychoactive substances (new drugs – EuSeMe project www.euseme.eu) is estimated. The same methodology was also used to assess the exposure of the population to food and environmental contaminants, such as pesticides and mycotoxins. New potential applications, under investigation now, are related to the use of urban wastewater analysis to assess the status of health of the population through the identification of specific biomarkers.

Nutrient studies as risk factors for the development of chronic diseases

This research unit have conducted studies with the aim to evaluate the possibility of reducing the consumption of salt and to develop an APP, application on a mobile phone, able to promote the Mediterranean diet in users of company canteens. Another study is ongoing with the aim to assess the exposure to food contaminants through the analysis of surgical samples of human adipose tissue. The environmental and nutritional risk assessment unit of this laboratory is also carrying out a study about nutrient effects on risk factors about the development of chronic diseases. To this end, systematic reviews and meta-analysis are performed to study the effects of the consumption on obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases of specific fatty acids and free sugars.

Wastewater-based epidemiology to study SARS-CoV-2

Recently we used the “wastewater-based epidemiology” approach to measure the occurrence of the virus SARS-CoV2, responsible of the COVID-19 pandemic, in urban wastewater with the aim to estimate the exposure of the population to the virus. Wastewater samples from the treatment plants of several cities in Lombardy are analysed by pre concentration methods and molecular analysis of SARS-CoV2 by real-time PCR and digital-PCR. This methodology can be useful has a surveillance system to monitor the pandemic trends within a population, to identify hotspots and to alert to early warning of virus outbreaks.

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International Consensus on Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation.

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