Crud. That’s what some folks might call sludge, a byproduct of wastewater treatment. People are often left wondering what to do with it. Do they dispose of it? Do they land apply it? Or do they just test it for COVID-19? Well, the latter is exactly what researchers have begun doing across the world, from the Netherlands to the Gem State.
Working with Biobot Analytics, a start-up created by MIT student Dr. Mariana Matus focusing on wastewater epidemiology, Boise and Moscow are putting their wastewater to the test. Solids in wastewater settle into what is called a sewage sludge. And in that sludge are the viruses humans shed when they use the bathroom. Biobot is taking that sludge and testing it for COVID-19 concentrations to generate an approximation of how many cases might be in the communities those wastewater systems serve.
So why test for COVID-19 this way? For starters, it provides large, anonymous, and unbiased samples. Researchers are able to collect data from symptomatic, as well as, asymptomatic individuals, many whom were never tested for the virus. This data allows researchers, community leaders, and healthcare systems to monitor the amount of virus present in a community and make decisions accordingly. Because this data can be collected before individuals begin showing symptoms, healthcare systems have time to prepare and communities have time to implement protocol to prevent the spread of the virus.
As they always have, wastewater systems and their operators help to ensure the health of the communities they serve. With the developing science of wastewater epidemiology, these systems can further serve the well-being of their communities through the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.