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Grants Awarded for Wastewater Virus Research

Thursday, November 11, 2021

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently announced it has awarded Tulane University (New Orleans) a grant to research human viruses found in wastewater intended for water reuse.

“Safe and reliable water supplies are critical to our nation’s communities and economy,” said Dr. Wayne Cascio, Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator for Science in the EPA’s Office of Research and Development. “The research funded by these grants will coordinate water reuse research, help identify critical science gaps and accelerate opportunities for reuse.”

The EPA reports that the reclamation and reuse of wastewater has the potential to significantly increase the nation’s available water resources, but can pose a health concern with the presence of viruses that are difficult to decrease with traditional sewage treatment approaches.

“The project goal is to develop a better understanding of indigenous viruses in different wastewater systems to design improved viral surrogate approaches that address challenges and shortcomings of current methodologies, including low concentrations of viruses in wastewater, quantitative detection and a lack of specificity for addressing human health risk,” the TU research grant states.

TU is one of five recipients of a total $6,298,689 in the EPA funding for wastewater and virus research, with a grant of $1,239,241. The other institutions and projects are:

  • Barnstable County Department of Health and Environment in Massachusetts and Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, to identify wastewater technologies and treatment processes capable of removing viruses to allow safe reuse of the treated wastewater, and to evaluate the use of five surrogates as possible indicators for presence of human viruses during treatment processes ($1,239,655);
  • University of California in Irvine, California, to conduct research that will result in recommendations of the best methods for identifying the viral risk for non-potable water reuse and standard operating procedures for these method ($1,240,000);
  • University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan, to develop surrogate-based frameworks for virus control through water recycling facilities ($1,239,980); and
  • Water Research Foundation and the University of Arizona, to identify chemical and/or viral surrogates for virus reduction during wastewater treatment processes in real-world systems and create reduction methods for each treatment process ($1,239,813).

Recent EPA Wastewater Research and Regulations

In May 2020, the EPA 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.

Preliminary research 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 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.

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

Through testing and evaluating the wastewater, Jay Garland, PhD and lead researcher on the wastewater surveillance project, said researchers would 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.

The EPA announced plans in September to develop three new rulemakings in regard to identifying opportunities to better protect public health and the environment through regulation of wastewater pollution.

In making the announcement, the EPA released Preliminary Effluent Guidelines Program Plan 15 (Preliminary Plan 15), which outlines new regulations to reduce contaminants—including per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and nutrients—from key industries.

According to the EPA, the decision to initiate the three new rulemakings arrived after concluding several studies previously discussed in its Effluent Guidelines Program Plan 14. The agency had determined that revised effluent limitations guidelines (ELGs) and pretreatment standards are warranted for:

  • Organic Chemicals, Plastics and Synthetic Fibers category to address per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) discharges from facilities manufacturing PFAS;
  • Metal Finishing category to address PFAS discharges from chromium electroplating facilities; and 
  • Meat and Poultry Products category to address nutrient discharges.

Most recently, the EPA announced it was granting nearly $6 million in funding to four institutions to research the potential harming risks to human health and the environment from pollutants found in biosolids.

Biosolids, also known as treated sewage sludge, are created during the wastewater treatment process.

The EPA reports that, when applied to land, they add nutrients, improve soil structure and enhance moisture retention. The economic and waste management benefits include saving space in landfills, recycling a waste product and reducing demand for synthetic fertilizers.

Because they are also reported to contain a variety of pollutants, states, municipalities and utilities need further research to determine how to process, handle and use biosolids.

   

Tagged categories: Colleges and Universities; Environmental Controls; Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); Funding; Grants; Health & Safety; Health and safety; NA; North America; Program/Project Management; Research; Research and development; Wastewater Plants; Water/Wastewater

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