Clean Water News & Stories

Sewage Monitoring Tracks COVID-19

Public health and clean water go hand-in-hand, especially in today’s COVID crisis. Clean Water Services (CWS) is tracking signs of COVID-19 in Washington County’s wastewater, and throughout the pandemic has been collaborating on research projects to help public health officials detect the presence and scope of the virus in other communities.

Using new analytical techniques, researchers are able to find evidence of the virus in wastewater at the neighborhood scale, which could provide an early warning sign of the virus in a community.

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.”

Local Research

CWS has collaborated on the 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, compared 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 Portland.
  • Lewis & Clark College – Collecting and analyzing samples from dorms twice a week to determine when students need testing and/or quarantining.
  • Oregon Health Authority – Expanding research to 30 treatment plants in Oregon to track the spread, recession and any potential new waves of COVID-19 infections.

National Research

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

The analytical techniques used in the studies allow researchers to look for trace amounts of the virus in wastewater. To date, the scientific community has found no evidence of viable COVID-19 virus in wastewater.

News Coverage & Presentations

  • Portland Monthly – Omicron Hasn’t Peaked in Oregon Yet, at Least Not According to Our Poop
  • KEX – Dr. Blythe Layton Discusses the Power and Potential of Sewer Surveillance (Begins at 49:00)
  • OPB – Tracing The Coronavirus Through Sewer Pipes In Oregon
  • 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
  • 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
  • Westside Economic Alliance – Presentation on Sewage Monitoring to Track COVID-19

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 people 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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