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EPA Evaluates SARS-CoV-2 in Wastewater

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

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Last month, the United States Environmental Protection Agency announced that its researchers would be engaging in research practices to help states, tribes, local, territorial governments, and public health agencies in reducing the risk of exposure to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

The research also aims to guide homeowners, business owners, and others to reduce their risk of exposure to SARS-CoV-2.

Virus Evaluation

As part of the Agency’s research efforts, officials will be looking at effective cleaning and disinfection, along with public health strategies like testing and social distancing.

“Determining the best long-lasting disinfectants would be helpful for surfaces that are touched by many people, like seating and handrails in a subway car,” said Shawn Ryan, PhD, and lead researcher for cleanup and disinfection projects. “We are currently working with New York City Transit to help them make data-driven, informed decisions on which products are best to use for their subway cars.”

ktsimage / Getty Images

Last month, the United States Environmental Protection Agency announced that its researchers would be engaging in research practices to help states, tribes, local, territorial governments, and public health agencies in reducing the risk of exposure to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

To do this, researchers will be assessing the use of EPA-approved disinfectants against SARS-CoV-2 on difficult to disinfect surfaces like fabric, various soft and porous materials and even personal protective equipment.

Additionally, the researchers will also be working to determine best environmental sample collection methods and evaluating longer-lasting microbial disinfectants and application methods for frequently touched surfaces.

According to the EPA, possible approaches could also involve alternative methods to kill viruses such as ultraviolet light, ozone, and steam, and promising disinfectant application methods such as electrostatic sprayers or foggers.

“EPA has tested and approved these disinfectant approaches for harder to kill biological pathogens such as bacillus anthracis, the bacteria that causes anthrax,” Ryan added.

“An enveloped virus like SARS-CoV-2 is easier to kill, but we want to make sure that we support these approaches with science and provide the right data so that decision-makers can apply the best approach for their specific situation.”

From the research collected, officials intend to share the findings with nation-wide transit agencies, organizations, and businesses.

Wastewater Virus Monitoring

Preliminary research has indicated that monitoring wastewater for the presence of SARS-CoV-2 may be useful as a sensitive early indicator of an of an infected community. Due to this discovery, the EPA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have begun developing and applying methods for measuring SARS-CoV-2 levels in wastewater.

The wastewater monitoring would also be able to provide indications if a community was experiencing a decrease in infection levels as well and hopes to better understand potential risks from exposure to untreated sewage.

“Current efforts are directed to develop best practices for using wastewater surveillance data as part of a data-driven, weight-of-evidence approach to helping make public health decisions,” said Jay Garland, PhD, and lead researcher on the wastewater surveillance project.

Kevin Oshima, PhD, a lead researcher for wastewater monitoring and detection adds, ““It is important to understand SARS-CoV-2 levels in wastewater from an infectivity perspective which is also a focus of our research.”

Since the report, the EPA has issued a draft report from the Scientific Advisory Board entitled “EPA’s Identification of Research Needs to Address the Environmental and Human Health Impacts of COVID-19.”

According to the report, researchers will be using a combination of molecular and culture-based methods to characterize SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater over a six-month pilot project. The research is slated to be conducted the city of Cincinnati, where its has combined and non-combined sewer systems.

Through testing and evaluating the wastewater, Garland says researchers will know how long the virus lives in waste, how to test sewage consistently for the virus, and how to consider wastewater systems where sewage is diluted by industrial waste or stormwater before reaching a treatment plant.

EPA and CDC researchers are also planning on developing a simple, low cost and non-invasive antibody test using saliva samples. The testing will be able to identify people who have been exposed to SARS-CoV-2 but may not have ever developed symptoms and could be immune to the virus.

“EPA has developed salivary antibody assays for a variety of pathogens,” says Tim Wade, PhD, lead researcher for the assay development. “Most of the assays out there today are based on blood antibody and we want to apply our salivary antibody assay approach as a more simple, lower cost, easier to implement version to help get to the true number of infections more quickly.”

COVID-19 and Wastewater

Also in May, researchers from the Center for Environmental Health Engineering at Arizona State University's Biodesign Institute announced that they had developed a new approach to monitoring regional levels of SARS-CoV-2.

Led by Professor Rolf Halden, who directs the Biodesign Center for Environmental Health Engineering and teaches in ASU’sSchool for Sustainability and the Built Environment, and Olga Hart, lead author of the new study and a researcher in the Biodesign Center for Health Engineering, the team has begun developing a new monitoring approach for the novel coronavirus, among other dangerous pathogens and chemical agents, in wastewater.

In their redefined method, known as wastetwater-based epidemiology, the researchers collect sewage samples so that clues can be analyzed over human health, and can even detect levels of coronavirus infection at both a local and global scale. The high sensitivity of the type of study is also reported to have the potential to detect the signature of a single infected individual among 100 to 2 million persons.

Arizona State University

Also in May, researchers from the Center for Environmental Health Engineering at Arizona State University's Biodesign Institute announced that they had developed a new approach to monitoring regional levels of SARS-CoV-2.

According to ASU, the research method could lead to real-time monitoring of disease outbreaks, resistant microbes, levels of drug use or health indicators of diabetes, obesity and other maladies.

The process works by first transcribing coronavirus RNA into complementary DNA (cDNA) by the reverse transcriptase enzyme, then amplifying the resultant DNA to improve signal detection. This step is followed by the use of sequencing techniques to confirm viral presence in the wastewater samples.

When probing for the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the wastewater is screened for the presence of the virus’ nucleic acid fragments. The RNA genomes are amplified through a process known as reverse-transcriptase quantitative PCR (RT qPCR).

Already, the university suggests that each person infected with SARS-CoV-2 will excrete millions, possibly billions, of viral genomes into wastewater per day, based on estimates on European and North America data. Given those chances, researchers have translated that number to landing somewhere between 0.15 and 141.5 million viral genomes per liter of wastewater generated.

Using this type of monitoring system, along with RT qPCR, researchers predict that they could detect the coronavirus with high sensitivity, simply by monitoring roughly every 1 in 114 individuals in in the worst-case scenario and just one positive case among 2 million noninfected individuals under optimum conditions. The information collected would be able to help pinpoint viral hotspots so that resources could better be directed to vulnerable populations, while restrictions could be eased in virus-free regions.

The research is being conducted through a partnership between the university and the City of Tempe, Arizona.

Prior to Arizona State University’s announcement, reports indicated that COVID-19 was starting to create issues for professionals in the wastewater industry, specifically in the public’s use of toilet paper alternatives and flushing them down the pipes.

According to multiple reports across the U.S., wastewater treatment officials had to remind their local residents not to flush sanitary wipes down the toilet. Many of these affected areas’ plumbers and public officials were reportedly experiencing a surge in backed-up sewer lines and even overflowing toilets, among other issues.

And earlier this month, the United States Department of Agriculture announced that it would be investing $281 million in rural communities for water and wastewater infrastructure.

In this round of funding, the USDA is splitting the $281 million between 106 projects in 36 states and Puerto Rico. The funds are being provided through the Water and Waste Disposal Loan and Grant program, which provides funding for clean and reliable drinking water systems, sanitary sewage disposal, sanitary solid waste disposal and storm water drainage to households and businesses in eligible rural areas.

Specifically, the USDA is funding projects in Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

View all of PaintSquare Daily News' coverage on COVID-19, here.

   

Tagged categories: COVID-19; Environmental Protection; Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); EPA; EPA; Health & Safety; Health and safety; NA; non-potable water; North America; potable water; Research; Research and development; Stormwater; Wastewater Plants

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