Panel 1: Scope Speakers

Panel 2: Action Speakers

Panel 3: Futures Speakers


Moving from privacy to justice in wastewater surveillance

An interdisciplinary workshop on the current state of wastewater-based epidemiology and what it will take to build practices and policies rooted in principles of justice.

Wastewater-based epidemiology (or wastewater surveillance) has grown in popularity following its widespread use for monitoring and governing the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, concerns about its potential to infringe on privacy rights have been raised. While individual privacy rights are important, this framing of ethics often misses out on identifying and addressing the structural inequalities and injustices that shape community-level surveillance efforts conducted by governments and private companies. 

Emerging technologies can either be assimilated into the status quo or revolutionize how we learn and govern. We believe teams of interdisciplinary experts must be formed in order to build a wastewater surveillance practice that revolutionizes the field – both technically and ethically. Our workshop is meant as a first step towards this goal.

Workshop Overview

This workshop brings together STEM experts, policy experts, and experts in critical social sciences in order to explore the social, economic, and political dimensions of wastewater surveillance through the framework of justice. We use justice as short-hand for the varied social movements calling for data justice, climate justice, environmental justice, racial justice, health justice, and disability justice. Rather than seek retribution or fixes to handle bad actors and individual cases of concern, these movements aim to identify and tackle the structural inequalities and injustices that are baked into our policies, sciences, and spaces. We believe this work is an urgent task and topic for wastewater surveillance today.

The aim of the workshop is to facilitate conversation across the unique perspectives and experiences of each attendee in order to explore both the stakes and possibilities for a wastewater surveillance practice that is rooted in principles of justice. We hope these conversations will spark new ideas for a more holistic approach to wastewater surveillance practices and policies – an approach that simultaneously :

  • Protects communities from public health threats for many years to come,
  • Avoids intrusions on bioethics standards and individual privacy rights; and,
  • Avoids creating, compounding, or reifying economic, cultural, racial, gender, or class inequalities.

Workshop Goals and Outputs

  1. The workshop will function as an interdisciplinary networking event for those involved in wastewater-based epidemiology. 
  2. The workshop will lead to the creation of a co-authored paper titled: “Moving from privacy to justice in wastewater surveillance” that will be submitted to an interdisciplinary journal. 

Workshop timing and structure

The workshop will be held virtually and will take place on Friday, June 2nd, 2023 from 9:00 am to 1:30 pm EST. It will include three interactive panels followed by facilitated discussions with the entire group of invitees. The panels will be moderated by Dr. Rafi Arefin (University of British Columbia), Dr. Carolyn Prouse (Queen’s University), and Dr. Josie Wittmer (University of Lausanne). 

 A timetable of the panels across a few representative time zones is shared below:

This event will be open to the public. Zoom invitation details will be posted here at a later date.

Project Funders

  • SSHRC Insight Grant
  • Urban Studies Foundation Pandemics and Cities Grant
  • UBC Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies Grant

Register to Attend

If you’d like to attend the workshop, please register here.

We’re particularly interested in hearing and learning from people, organizations, and neighbourhoods who are concerned about the sometimes-opaque ways in which their data is being collected and used. You can find us here.