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Sewage Monitoring Tracks COVID-19

May 26, 2020

Public health and clean water go hand-in-hand, especially in today's COVID crisis. Clean Water Services (CWS) is collaborating on research projects to track COVID-19 in sewage to help public health officials detect the presence and scope of the virus in a community. Using new analytical techniques, researchers are able to find evidence of the virus at the neighborhood scale, which could provide an early warning sign of the virus in a community.

Local Research

CWS is collaborating on following projects:

  • Oregon State University (OSU) College of Engineering – Studying weekly samples from 20 sites within the CWS wastewater collection system taken over a 52-week period, the project is funded by the National Science Foundation.
  • OSU Colleges of Public Health and Human Sciences, Science, Veterinary Medicine, and Agricultural Sciences, TRACE Program – Testing sewage for signals of COVID-19 in Corvallis and Bend, compare with spatial and temporal virus signals in communities.
  • Oregon Health & Science University – Working to correlate public health tracing (symptomatic and asymptomatic infections, antibodies) results with sewage tracking results in Hillsboro, Portland and Lake Oswego.
  • Oregon Health Authority – Proposal to expand OSU/CWS research to 30 treatment plants in Oregon over a two-year period to track the spread, recession and any potential new waves of COVID-19 infections.

National Research

  • CWS is also participating in a 12-week national study led by MIT spin-off Biobot Analytics. Samples are collected weekly from our four water resource recovery facilities to be analyzed.  

The analytical techniques used in the studies, allows researchers to look for signs of the virus in sewage, not the virus itself. To date, the scientific community has found no evidence of viable COVID-19 virus in wastewater.

Wastewater treatment is one of the most significant public health advancements in history and protection of public health remains at the heart of what we do. "It's important to support our community," said Research and Innovation Director, Dr. Ken Williamson. "We are hopeful this research will assist public health officials stem the tide of COVID-19 and be another tool for community monitoring."

Everything we do at Clean Water Services aims to protect public health, while enhancing the natural environment of the Tualatin River Watershed. Combining science and nature, we work in partnership with others to safeguard the river's health and vitality, ensure the economic success of our region, and protect public health for more than 600,000 residents and businesses in urban Washington County. Although Clean Water Services maintains a close working relationship with Washington County government, it is separately managed and financed.

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News Coverage

Politico – Poop could help stop the pandemic. Really.
KGW – The proof is in the poo: What your sewage can tell you about coronavirus hot spots
KPTV – Human poop helping scientists study, track COVID-19
KTVZ – OSU expands COVID-19 prevalence study to Bend; also will analyze wastewater
Water Research Foundation – Virtual Congressional Briefing on Sewer Surveillance of COVID-19

 

Contacts

Mark Jockers
Government & Public Affairs Director
Clean Water Services
503.681.4450 (o)
503.701.4293 (m)
jockersm@cleanwaterservices.org

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