News Briefs: Sewage Study Claims Massachusetts Is Undercounting Its COVID-19 Cases

Also in this week's water and wastewater news, cannabis growers could be part of the solution to Florida's algae bloom problem

Researchers from a biotech startup called Biobot Analytics recently reported that they took samples from a wastewater treatment plant in an unnamed metro area in Massachusetts and found COVID-19 in the sewage at higher levels than expected.

The findings indicate that reported cases in that area are greatly underestimating the number of people who are actually infected.

One of the study’s authors is stressing that the public is not at risk of contracting the virus from wastewater and that the study is purely meant to gauge how much of the public is infected  by COVID-19.

“Even if those viral particles are no longer active or capable of infecting humans, they may still carry genetic material that can be detected using an approach called polymerase chain reaction, which amplifies the genetic signal many orders of magnitude, creating billions of copies of the genome for each starting virus,” author Eric Alm tells Newsweek.

New Hampshire Study Spurs Change in Drinking Water Standards

Recent research out of the University of New Hampshire has led to new drinking water standards for arsenic in the state.

The study found that New Hampshire residents were willing to invest in water treatment infrastructure if it mean that drinking water would be safer and arsenic levels would be lower.

“Our research led to the conclusion that the benefits of reduced mortality and morbidity from reducing the incidence of bladder and lung cancers far outweighed the costs of additional water treatment to remove arsenic,” says John Halstead, researcher with the New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station and professor of environmental economics in the UNH College of Life Sciences and Agriculture.

Gov. Chris Sununu signed HB 261 last year, limiting the amount of arsenic in public drinking water to half the federal limit, or 5 ppb. New Hampshire joined only New Jersey in setting the lowest-in-the-nation drinking water standard.

“Armed with the facts, we were able to change the maximum contaminant level and can now work to truly and positively impact the health of our citizens,” says Thomas O’Donovan, New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services water division director.

Cannabis Could Help Solve Florida's Red Tide Problem

There’s a debate going on in Florida right now about whether cannabis — specifically the THC-free industrial hemp — could help solve the state’s red tide toxic algae problem.

There’s currently an ongoing experiment at two small lakes in Avon Park studying whether cannabis can leech nitrogen and phosphorus from the waterways and starve out the toxic algae.

Entrepreneur Steve Edmonds, a longtime cannabis activist, formed the nonprofit Hemp4Water in 2013 after the algae outbreak occurred in the state. He started by asking questions about how best to deal with excess nitrogen and phosphorus causing algae blooms.

“I talked to a lot of (cannabis) growers who were saying, wow, that kind of nitrogen and phosphorus for a pH would be really nice for a grow. I measured nitrogen and phosphorus and pH in Lake Okeechobee and the levels were pretty damn close to what growers need. In fact, they spend a lot of time and money trying to create water with those kinds of nutrients in it.”


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