News Briefs: Wastewater Tests Could Provide Early Warning of COVID-19

Also in this week's water and wastewater news, wastewater treatment facilities continue to fight against a surge of wrongfully flushed disposable wipes

Researchers at Cranfield University in Bedfordshire, England, are working on a new test to detect COVID-19 in the wastewater of communities infected with the virus.

The wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) approach could provide an effective and rapid way to predict the potential spread of novel coronavirus pneumonia (COVID-19) by picking up on biomarkers in feces and urine from disease carriers that enter the sewer system.

Rapid testing kits using paper-based devices could be used on-site at wastewater treatment plants to trace sources and determine whether there are potential COVID-19 carriers in local areas.

Dr. Zhugen Yang, lecturer in sensor technology at Cranfield Water Science Institute says “in the case of asymptomatic infections in the community or when people are not sure whether they are infected or not, real-time community sewage detection through paper analytical devices could determine whether there are COVID-19 carriers in an area to enable rapid screening, quarantine and prevention.”

WWTPs Grapple With Wipes Problems During COVID-19 Outbreak

Nationwide, wastewater treatment plants continue to see problems related to flushable wipes clogs, as residents increase efforts to clean their homes with disinfecting wipes and look to alternatives during a toilet paper shortage.

From Indiana to Rhode Island to California and everywhere in between, wastewater utilities are experiencing major problems with consumers flushing wipes that have no business going down the drain.

Another recent example is Pennsylvania American Water, which is telling customers not to flush these wipes down the toilet. “Flushing or dumping the wrong things down the drain can cause problems in your local sewer system and cause blockages in your own home,” Jim Gable, senior manager of southeast operations for Pennsylvania American Water, tells customers. “Many sewer blockages occur between your house and our sewer main, where the property owner is responsible for correcting and paying for the repair. During this already stressful time, we want to help our customers avoid blockages that could create costly plumbing emergencies.”

Washington Governor Signs Law Addressing Disposable Wipes Labeling

On a related note, Washington Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon is applauding Gov. Jay Inslee’s signing of a new law intended to address the labeling of certain disposable wipes.

The law requires packages of these wipes to carry prominent “Do Not Flush” labeling to help guide consumers to dispose of them appropriately in the trash.

“I introduced this legislation in response to concerns voiced by Washington sewer system operators that consumers are flushing certain categories of wipes that are not intended to be,” says Fitzgibbon. “I was pleased to sponsor legislation that brought together municipalities and industry to find a common sense solution to this problem and am proud that Washington is the first state in the nation to tackle this issue in a meaningful way.”

EPA Urges Governors Nationwide to Label Water/Wastewater Works Essential

In other news, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler recently sent a letter to governors in all 50 states, territories and Washington, D.C. urging them to ensure that drinking water and wastewater employees are considered essential workers by state authorities when enacting restrictions such as shelter in place orders to curb the spread of COVID-19.

“Ensuring that all Americans have clean and safe water is a high priority for the agency and I want to thank the water sector for their courageous efforts at a time when workforces are being challenged and stretched,” says Wheeler. “Having fully operational drinking water and wastewater services is critical to containing COVID-19 and protecting Americans from other public health risks. Our nation's water and wastewater employees are everyday heroes who are on the frontline of protecting human health and the environment every single day.”


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