Wastewater research offers great potential for detecting diseases and specific substances. Working with relevant stakeholders, RIVM is currently exploring whether wastewater research will be expanded in the future.

This illustration shows the possibilities of wastewater research. Further research will need to show which applications are useful and feasible.

Please see below for an explanation of this infographic

View infographic: Possibilities of wastewater research (PDF, 162 KB)

There is much that we can learn from wastewater. Below are some examples of what RIVM is already measuring in wastewater, and possibilities for other research.

Infectious diseases

Measuring pathogens (and variants thereof), such as: coronavirus, polio virus, mpox virus, influenza virus, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, RS virus, measles virus, rotavirus.


Measuring substances that provide information on: doping use, medication use, drug use, stress, (over)weight, nutrition, smoking, alcohol use.

Living environment

Measuring substances like: heavy metals, flame retardents, pesticides, microplants, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), radiations, UV filters.

Infectious diseases

Some existing and emergent infectious diseases can be found in wastewater. RIVM has been conducting wastewater research to monitor the polio virus for a long time, and we also conduct measurements for antibiotics resistance. Since 2020, RIVM has been conducting national research on the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19). Other viruses, such as influenza, mpox and measles, are also monitored on a smaller scale, and more is possible. If wastewater surveillance detects high levels of a virus that causes an infectious disease, that could be a reason to prioritise vaccinating people against that disease. 

Living environment

Our stool and urine end up in wastewater via the toilet. In large parts of the Netherlands, rain water also ends up in the sewers through drainpipes and manholes. Due to this, it is possible to conduct research on chemicals in the living environment, such as chemicals ending up in the sewers from industry, traffic and intensive agriculture that can have an impact on the health of the surrounding inhabitants.

Wastewater research in the living environment

RIVM conducts research on various chemicals in wastewater that can offer insight into the living environment of the Dutch population.

  • Research radioactive materials in wastewater
    RIVM investigated on a small scale whether it is possible to identify radioactive materials in wastewater. The findings can be read in the RIVM report: Radioactive materials used in hospitals found in wastewater.
  • Research metal PAHs in wastewater Tata Steel Nederland
    During a pilot study, RIVM measured whether more metals and PAHs (Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons) would be found in IJmond compared with other locations in the Netherlands. The goal was to see whether the influence of Tata Steel Nederland (TSN) could be found in wastewater. The results of the study can be read in: Memorandum 2024-0040: Pilot study wastewater measurements. 

Healthy lifestyle

Wastewater research can be a good supplementary measure to additional research on the lifestyle of Dutch citizens. Chemicals that offer insight into people’s lifestyle can be found in wastewater, including alcohol and nicotine degradation products. Other products such as drugs and medication can also be measured in wastewater. RIVM is conducting research into this. You can read more about wastewater water research into medication use and drug use.