Is Covid-19 Spreading Within Your Community Right Now? Check Your Wastewater

Sep 8, 2020

I normally write thoughts about weather, climate, and related science topics in Forbes. Our editors call that a “swim lane.” I am going to go swimming in a slightly different but related pool today, one that involves wastewater. I know that sounds disgusting, but one of my colleagues at the University of Georgia and her team have developed a method to track Covid-19 in near “real-time” through wastewater. She and her graduate students also developed a publicly available tracking system.

To come somewhat close to my swim lane, let’s discuss what wastewater is. According to an Environmental Protection Agency website in Australia:
  • Blackwater is any waste from toilets or urinals
  • Greywater is wastewater that has been used for washing, laundering, bathing or showering
  • Wastewater includes both blackwater and greywater.

While you probably learned about the water cycle in school (evaporation, precipitation, runoff, condensation, and so forth), it is unlikely that you are as familiar with the urban water cycle. Wastewater is a part of that cycle which also includes things like water withdrawal, purification, and delivery. The graphic below is a good illustration of the urban water cycle found on the U.S. Environmental Protection (EPA) website.

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