Wastewater treatment plant operators report high capacity to support wastewater surveillance for COVID-19 across New York State, USA

Dustin T. Hill, Hannah Cousins, Bryan Dandaraw, Catherine Faruolo, Alex Godinez, Sythong Run, Simon Smith, Megan Willkens, Shruti Zirath, David A. Larsen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Wastewater surveillance for infectious disease expanded greatly during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a collaboration between sanitation engineers and scientists, the most cost-effective deployment of wastewater surveillance routinely tests wastewater samples from wastewater treatment plants. To evaluate the capacity of treatment plants of different sizes and characteristics to participate in surveillance efforts, we developed and distributed a survey to New York State municipal treatment plant supervisors in the summer and fall of 2021. The goal of the survey was to assess the knowledge, capacity, and attitudes toward wastewater surveillance as a public health tool. Our objectives were to: (1) determine what treatment plant operators know about wastewater surveillance for public health; (2) assess how plant operators feel about the affordability and benefits of wastewater surveillance; and (3) determine how frequently plant personnel can take and ship samples using existing resources. Results show that 62% of respondents report capacity to take grab samples twice weekly. Knowledge about wastewater surveillance was mixed with most supervisors knowing that COVID-19 can be tracked via wastewater but having less knowledge about surveillance for other public health issues such as opioids. We found that attitudes toward wastewater testing for public health were directly associated with differences in self-reported capacity of the plant to take samples. Further, findings suggest a diverse capacity for sampling across sewer systems with larger treatment plants reporting greater capacity for more frequent sampling. Findings provide guidance for outreach activities as well as important insight into treatment plant sampling capacity as it is connected to internal factors such as size and resource availability. These may help public health departments understand the limitations and ability of wastewater surveillance for public health benefit.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number155664
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Volume837
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 1 2022

Keywords

  • Opioid surveillance
  • Pathogen detection
  • Public health management
  • Public health surveillance
  • Sewer systems
  • Wastewater surveillance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution

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