New study first to detect drugs in air in Oceania

Although wastewater testing has long tracked the consumption of drugs in a community, it seems we could have been pulling the results right out of thin air.

The first airborne drug test in the Oceania region – done by the University of Auckland – has detected a myriad of drugs.

The five week study used an air pollution monitoring site in downtown Auckland (on Customs St near the bottom of Queen St) to get a understanding of how the concentrations changed over time.

The researchers used liquid chromatography with tandem mass spectrometry to test for a wide variety of substances between December and January 2020/2021.

The researchers found nicotine in the highest concentration, followed by methamphetamine, caffeine and THC.

Each drug was measured in either picograms or nanograms per metre, so there’s no risk of getting affected by the air we breathe.

“The results aren’t as concerning as a headline might make them sound,” says University of Auckland chemist Dr Joel Rindelaub.

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“However, they highlight that we really don’t know as much as we should about what’s in the air that we breathe.”

Rather than compare the concentration of drugs, it makes more sense to compare the concentrations over time and with other cities to work out how Auckland stands when it comes to drugs.

They found that caffeine and nicotine were at their highest concentrations during the weekdays, while meth and THC were highest on the weekends. The only exception was New Years Eve.

The researchers also discovered that meth concentrations in Auckland were higher than in some overseas cities such as Barcelona.

The research was published in Atmospheric Pollution Research.

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