NACWA Publishes Utility Considerations Document on Surveilling Wastewater for COVID-19

(July 10, 2020) – NACWA released a new document highlighting a variety of considerations for public clean water utilities across the country that are already doing wastewater-based epidemiological (WBE) surveillance for COVID-19 or contemplating doing so in the future.

As the global COVID-19 pandemic continues and new hot spots arise throughout the country, there is a growing interest to quantify the magnitude of infected individuals within a given community and state and local officials are looking to public wastewater utilities to sample and analyze raw influent for indications of genetic material.

Although WBE is not a new phenomenon, this technique can help identify within a localized population the distribution (occurrence trends or hotspots) from asymptomatic and symptomatic individuals and can assist public health officials in their role of making informed policy decisions to mitigate or prevent future spread within a community.

This document is a compilation of ideas and “lessons learned” from NACWA public utility members that have already started sampling wastewater or are assessing whether to and to what degree. One of the most important lessons that emerged from this document is that utilities should engage and work in tandem with their local and/or state health departments when sampling wastewater for COVID-19 RNA.

Concerns have also been raised that WBE analysis and communicating epidemiological data is outside the traditional role of a public clean water agency and many utilities may feel pressured by private companies and others to conduct such surveillance. Other concerns include assessing costs and data validation, since the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have not yet established a universal, standard method.

There has never been a more important time to champion the essential operations of public wastewater utilities and their continued dedication and commitment to ensuring our water resources are clean and safe. As our knowledge deepens and more information becomes available, this document also provides tips on communicating the “cool new science” of WBE to the public and to the media.

The document is intended to be a “living document” that NACWA will update as the science and understanding of WBE for COVID-19 continues to evolve. If members have questions, comments, or suggestions for additional material for the document, or for more information, please contact Emily Remmel, NACWA’s Director of Regulatory Affairs.