Transforming our Understanding of the Chemical Exposome

ARC Australian Laureate Fellowship

Despite many benefits associated with the use of chemicals, it has been highlighted that their accelerated production and use are increasingly affecting environmental health. Failure to manage the use and release of chemicals in Australia can potentially have enormous, negative consequences on the economy, commercially, environmentally, and socially. Effective tools to understand spatiotemporal trends and factors that drive chemical exposure are urgently needed. 

The core of this Laureate Project is to develop, establish, and refine various other projects and programs that measure exposure to different chemicals nationwide, including the Census wastewater analysis program, PBS, Cohort analysis programs, and non-target analysis. This encompasses all stages of a project, from how to collect samples, designing samplers, and the location and frequency of sampling to analysing, archiving, and utilising the information drawn from those samples. Having an integrated, streamlined process across a range of different projects will provide a better understanding of chemical and hazard exposure on a population-wide scale and enable researchers to better link their results to different drivers including socioeconomic factors, behaviour, and age. Basically, to identify emerging chemicals you need to have a systematic sampling program and archive process that allows you to look back in time to measure this ‘emergence’. This will ultimately allow appropriate interventions and regulations to be made by governments and policymakers to better protect the environment and the human population from these emerging chemicals of concern and other hazards.


This fellowship began during the COVID-19 epidemic and immediately provided key information and outcomes. We were able to assess the effects of COVID-19, and specifically the lockdowns on population exposure, which led to new analytical methods for exposure assessment. Additionally, this project enabled the spatiotemporal analysis of the existing data on the pesticide concentrations on the Great Barrier Reef. We were also able to analyse the spatiotemporal trends of a wide range of chemical pollutants in archived air samples collected with passive samplers from across Australia, some of which are up to 10 years old. Finally, this project enabled the analysis of spatiotemporal trends in chemical pollutants and their removal in different wastewater treatment plants covering a wide range of pollutants.

Research Outputs

Taucare, G., Bignert, A., Kaserzon, S., Thai, P., Mann, R.M., Gallen, C. and Mueller, J., 2022. Detecting long temporal trends of photosystem II herbicides (PSII) in the Great Barrier Reef lagoon. Marine Pollution Bulletin177, p.113490.

O'Brien, J.W., Tscharke, B.J., Bade, R., Chan, G., Gerber, C., Mueller, J.F., Thomas, K.V. and Hall, W.D., 2022. A wastewater‐based assessment of the impact of a minimum unit price (MUP) on population alcohol consumption in the Northern Territory, Australia. Addiction117(1), pp.243-249.

Álvarez-Ruiz, R., Hawker, D.W., Mueller, J.F., Gallen, M., Kaserzon, S., Picó, Y. and McLachlan, M.S., 2021. Postflood monitoring in a subtropical estuary and Benchmarking with PFASs allows measurement of chemical persistence on the scale of months. Environmental Science & Technology55(21), pp.14607-14616.

Bade, R., Tscharke, B.J., O’Brien, J.W., Magsarjav, S., Humphries, M., Ghetia, M., Thomas, K.V., Mueller, J.F., White, J.M. and Gerber, C., 2021. Impact of COVID-19 controls on the use of illicit drugs and alcohol in Australia. Environmental Science & Technology Letters8(9), pp.799-804.

Ahmed, F., Tscharke, B., O'Brien, J.W., Zheng, Q., Thompson, J., Mueller, J.F. and Thomas, K.V., 2021. Wastewater-based prevalence trends of gout in an Australian community over a period of 8 years. Science of the Total Environment759, p.143460.


Project members

Prof Jochen Mueller

Theme Leader, Emerging Environmental Health Risks