Area sewage part of promising virus-tracking study

Mar 22, 2021

It’s a chemist’s version of finding a needle in a haystack.

Mankato’s wastewater treatment plant receives about 11.3 million gallons of sewage each day, enough to fill 17 Olympic-size swimming pools. Researchers at the University of Minnesota Medical School in Duluth are looking for the SARS-CoV-2 virus within that waste, and the virus is so small it would take more than 8,700 of the particles placed end to end to cross the eye of a needle.

But the UMD study is not only spotting the virus, it appears to be measuring it precisely enough to capture the rise and fall of COVID-19 cases within the Mankato area.


“It’s incredible what they can do,” said Jim Archer, an industrial chemist for the city of Mankato.

Archer and his colleagues have been pulling samples of the wastewater twice a week since May and sending them to the researchers at UMD. The wastewater surveillance study is potentially a valuable source of data in a pandemic.

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