Environmental Health Risk Assessment

A/Prof Sarit Kaserzon & A/Prof Phong ThaiA/Professor Sarit Kaserzon and A/Professor Phong Thai co-lead the Environmental Health Risk Assessment team at QAEHS. They lead and/or contribute to advancing knowledge to enable improved understanding of the source, exposure and toxicological effects of environmental pollutants.

Meet the Environmental Health Risk Assessment research team.

Wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) or wastewater analysis is an alternative approach for monitoring the population level consumption of a substance based on the analysis of residues of biomarkers that were excreted through urine or faeces and were pooled in influent wastewater. Wastewater analysis has the advantage of being cost-effective and capable of high-resolution temporal and geographic sampling compared with conventional epidemiological methods. Quantitative estimation of the use of a particular type of chemical or pathogen is dependent on both the measurement of a biomarker specific to that chemical or pathogen, as well as knowing the percentage of that biomarker excreted following human consumption when compared to the quantity consumed.

The most prominent example of WBE application is the wastewater surveillance of COVID-19 in the population during the height of the pandemic, which has contributed to the effective management of COVID-19 in Queensland.

Current Research Projects

Realistic Assessment of Biomarker Transformation in the Wastewater System

Using Multiple Data Sources to Understand the Opioid Crisis in Australia

Current HDR Student Projects

Assessing and Modelling Spatiotemporal Trends of Drug Consumptions in the Community by Wastewater-based Epidemiology 

Wastewater Analysis for Drug Monitoring in Correctional Facilities 

Improving Estimation of Tobacco Use by Wastewater-based Epidemiology 


The Australian population is exposed to a multitude of chemicals that include environmental pollutants such as pesticides, flame retardants, per-fluorinated chemicals, personal care products and metals. To advance the understanding of exposure and associated risk from environmental pollutants, QAEHS has established a number of research projects to investigate human exposure to environmental contaminants.

In this research theme, one study will focus in particular on investigating methods of reducing occupational exposure to pesticides (i.e., glyphosate) through developing new tools and refining methods to integrate human biomonitoring (HBM) data with data informing on the pathways of glyphosate exposure from high use.

Another project will focus on the exposure of people to the stimulant methamphetamine through thirdhand exposure pathways. It is essential information that is contributing to the establishment of Australian guidelines for testing and remediation of residential properties contaminated with methamphetamine smoking.

Current Research Projects

Chemicals in Compostable Food Contact Paper Packaging Materials

Pesticide Analysis for the Inshore Great Barrier Reef Marina Monitoring Program

Food Organics and Garden Organics (FOGO) Contamination Including PFAS Sampling and Analysis

Evaluation of PFAS Release from Impacted Concrete and Asphalts  

Understanding Third Hand Exposure of Australian People to Methamphetamine 

Current HDR Student Projects

Reducing Glyphosate Exposure from High Use Practices

Behaviour and Fate of Neonicotinoids in Australian Aquatic Environment

La Nina Influence on Herbicide and Pesticide Transport to Moreton Bay's Delicate Seagrass Beds

PFAS Contamination in Food Packaging Materials and their Flow-on Contamination 

Third-hand Smoking of Methamphetamine: An Investigation of Airborne Methamphetamine Levels and Remediation Approach

Passive samplers are small tubes filled with a substance that passively accumulates chemicals over time. Samplers can be submerged in aquatic environments over several days or weeks to determine presence and concentration of chemical substances. Passive samplers can be used for measuring chemicals such as pesticides, pharmaceuticals and drugs and are a reliable and cost-effective sampling method.

At QAEHS we continuously develop and apply new passive sampling technologies to enable the targeting of emerging chemicals and chemicals of concern. Several passive sampling tools are routinely applied by QAEHS in collaboration with industry and government agencies, providing spatial and temporal assessment of contaminants of concerns. One such passive sampler being developed is designed to address contamination from per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Due to their properties, persistence, and widespread use, PFAS are frequently found in the environment and detected in humans worldwide.

The PFAS passive sampling technologies are in development where the influence of environmental factors (i.e., pH, salinity, dissolved organic matter and water flow) on sampling behaviours are being assessed to improve the representative of the sampling technique.

Passive sampling has also been adapted to monitor pathogens in wastewater with its effectiveness demonstrated by QAEHS researchers during the COVID-19 pandemic in Queensland.

Current Research Projects

Improved Monitoring of Aquatic Pollutants in National Water Resources

Development of Passive Sampling Methodologies for Per- and Polyfluoralkyl Substances

Water Quality Micro-Pollutant Passive Sampler Monitoring Program

Current HDR Student Projects

Development of Passive Sampling Methodologies for Per- and Plyfluoroalkyl Substances (Advance Queensland Women's Research Assistance Program)

Development and Application of Passive Sampling Technologies for Per and Poly-Fluorinated Substances

Improved Monitoring of Hydrophilic Aquatic Contaminants of Emerging Concern

Non-target analysis employing high-resolution mass spectrometry (HRMS) has been established over the past years as one of the key approaches for tackling the complexity of establishing experimental evidence of the role of chemical exposure in human and environmental systems and allows for the retrospective screening of previously archived HRMS data. The sharing and community curation of HRMS data allows for the potential to globally collaborate and share data through an online platform in order to optimise the way emerging chemical threats are identified. 

At QAEHS we have established the In Spectra platform for global sharing of high-resolution non-target screening (HRNS) data as part of an National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) research collaboration. The archiving of HRMS data also allows for data to be processed retrospectively, for example, to investigate the occurrence of a newly identified compound or one that was simply not considered at the time of analysis. This has even led to proposals for the establishment of data repositories, akin to environmental data banks, where digital information can be safely stored for future retrospective analysis. 

In addition, QAEHS conducts ongoing research that develops and applies HRMS workflows to identify new chemicals of concern, identify chemical degradation and transformation pathways and investigate changes in human and environmental systems over time.

Completed Projects

Evaluation and Implementation of Methods to Increase Comprehensiveness of Non-Target Analysis