Wastewater Monitoring: Giving Wastewater the Attention It Deserves

October 26, 2022
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Increased support for wastewater monitoring emphasizes that wastewater management cannot be an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ component of our culture.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, wastewater monitoring, also called wastewater surveillance, has played a significant role in helping researchers identify potential COVID outbreaks, including the prevalence of new variants. Not only can this type of wastewater surveillance detect outbreaks within populations before many infected individuals have even experienced symptoms, but it also provides critical insights otherwise unavailable, given that many individuals experiencing COVID are now self-testing and self-medicating.

As a tool for improving quality of life, this type of monitoring is one more indicator of how vital it is that cultures move beyond an attitude of “flush and forget.” As Mahatma Gandhi observed, “Sanitation is more important than independence.”

Wastewater Monitoring: Building a Forecasting Model

Previously the technologies behind bacteria and virus tracking for healthcare management were used primarily to monitor polio. Now that COVID has pushed this type of wastewater monitoring to the forefront, it will be more available to track many other health crises, from influenza to the opioid epidemic.

Earlier this week, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced $1 million in research grant funding to improve wastewater monitoring for early and rapid detection of infectious diseases related to COVID-19 and other pathogens that could result in future pandemics.

The funds were awarded to the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and will be used in part to develop a system to rank locations where wastewater monitoring should take place to detect disease-causing pathogens. The projected results of the study would include:

  • A transmission forecasting model for wastewater monitoring
  • A tested system for the identification of optimal monitoring sites
  • And, a secure platform for data storage and analysis to provide actionable wastewater monitoring information to public health officials for pandemic management

Also participating in the project will be the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO), the University of Florida, and Portland State University in Oregon.

Read the full EPA announcement here: EPA Awards $1 Million to University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign for COVID-19 Research on Wastewater Systems to Track Current and Future Pandemics.

The Public Health On Call podcast “How COVID-19 Became a “Watershed” Moment for Wastewater Surveillance” features Stephanie Desmon on the topic of wastewater surveillance and its potential use for monitoring public health.


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