The water industry is joining in the valiant fight to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. It has been recently discovered that wastewater testing can indicate a possible outbreak up to 7 days prior to visible symptoms. This testing is also referred to as wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE). University of Arizona, professor and OSU graduate Dr. Ian Pepper has been quoted saying “Sewage surveillance is a leading indicator as opposed to deaths, that’s a lagging indicator. That’s the last thing you see.” He is an environmental microbiologist whose research has focused on the fate and transport of pathogens in air, water, soils, and municipal wastes. More recently, he has investigated the potential for real-time detection of contaminants in water distribution systems. Dr. Pepper is among many scientists who are helping develop and conduct this new innovative wastewater analysis through PCR testing.
Locally, Ohio has also developed a network across the state that are collecting study samples of wastewater to look for the presence of gene copies/fragments of the virus that cause the disease. The initiative is a collaboration between the Ohio Department of Health (ODH), the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (Ohio EPA), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA), the Ohio Water Resources Center (Ohio WRC) at The Ohio State University. Other participating universities, include The University of Toledo, Kent State University, and Bowling Green State University. As the network expands, sampling and analysis will include other universities with laboratory capabilities.
Dr. Timothy Davis, an associate professor of biological sciences is leading the WBE study at BGSU. IFM Laboratory Analyst and BGSU Biology student, Lorna Ziehm has shown great interest in this new analysis. Dr. Davis and Lorna, along with other professors have hopes of finding ways for IFM to collaborate with this groundbreaking method of helping fight the spread of COVID-19.