Wastewater Monitoring: A Valuable Public Health Tool for City Leaders

April 27, 2023 - (2 min read)

The COVID-19 pandemic showed us that monitoring wastewater for infectious diseases is a valuable tool to protect public health. During the pandemic, wastewater monitoring provided critical community-level data–from tracking surges and spread to tracing the arrival of SARS-CoV-2 variants–to help everyone from policymakers to community members make informed decisions that helped slow the spread and save lives. However, the value of wastewater monitoring doesn’t stop with COVID-19. Scientists know that many other infectious diseases can be monitored in the same way and with the same wastewater samples. Communities are building stronger, more actionable wastewater monitoring processes that will function as lasting public health infrastructure. 

In a report published earlier this year, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine described how critical wastewater monitoring was during the pandemic, and how the nation can build on those efforts to create a national wastewater monitoring system that tracks many pathogens simultaneously and pivot quickly to detect emerging disease trends. Those experts emphasize the importance of wastewater monitoring systems that are flexible, equitable, integrated, actionable and sustainable. 

A philanthropically funded effort called WastewaterSCAN, which partners with the National League of Cities (NLC) to bring information and learning opportunities about wastewater monitoring to NLC members, is a model for a stronger, more flexible system. WastewaterSCAN uses uniform testing and reporting standards in more than 150 participating locations across 29 states, and tests not only for SARS-CoV-2, but also a range of other pathogens that includes flu, RSV, norovirus, human metapneumovirus and mpox.  Results are shared on WastewaterSCAN’s data dashboard within 48 hours after receiving wastewater samples, for use by local public health agencies and the public. Data are also shared with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to inform their national monitoring efforts. 

The National Academies report calls for the United States to build upon efforts like WastewaterSCAN to create a stronger national infrastructure that can guard us against infectious diseases. Using these processes, leaders in public health and policy across the country can build a more durable infrastructure that measures threats to public health and prepares us for the next pandemic. 


This blog was written by the WastewaterSCAN team.

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