Wastewater Monitoring: A Valuable Public Health Tool

April 3, 2024 - (2 min read)

As part of National Public Health Week, NLC is partnering with WastewaterSCAN to provide insights on the benefits of wastewater monitoring as a public health tool.

Every time someone uses the bathroom, takes a shower, or brushes their teeth, they produce wastewater (aka sewage). That sewage—which not only contains human-produced solids and liquids but also traces of infectious diseases shed from infected individuals—then flows to a local wastewater treatment plant. Once at the plant, it’s possible to collect wastewater samples before they are treated, test the samples, and provide communities with beneficial information about the presence of infectious diseases like COVID-19, influenza, RSV, and norovirus in their area, with no extra effort from the public. Anyone who uses the public sewage system is anonymously included in these results. Routine sewage sample collection and testing can give a community a look at whether disease levels are rising, falling, or staying the same. The data can serve as an early warning sign for outbreaks and inform public health responses at a local, regional, or national level.

Wastewater monitoring continues to emerge as a valuable part of America’s public health infrastructure following the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2022, NLC began its partnership with WastewaterSCAN to help provide information and learning opportunities about wastewater surveillance to its members.  WastewaterSCAN monitors 11 infectious diseases through samples collected three times a week and shipped overnight to a lab for analysis. After being tested, data from the wastewater sample tests are posted on the WastewaterSCAN data dashboard. The data dashboard is a publicly available tool that indicates disease levels and trends locally, regionally, and nationally—for use by local public health agencies and the public—helping inform public health responses. Data is also shared with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

WastewaterSCAN tests municipal wastewater in a diverse array of communities across the United States, from Alaska to Texas and California to Maine. Through its partnership with NLC, WastewaterSCAN has been working with NLC members. Check out our next blog to hear how two of these communities – Riverside, CA, and University Park, PA – are using wastewater monitoring to keep their communities healthy.

Harnessing Wastewater for Health

Utilize wastewater to detect COVID-19 and other pathogens – expanding access to vital disease detection.

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