Colorado is moving to state coverage of wastewater monitoring

On the Sunday morning of March 2020, at the onset of the disease, an article in Popular Mechanics was captured by engineer Pieter Van Ry. It has the title: “How Poop Gives Advice on the Spread of Coronavirus.”

“At the end of that article, it was said, ‘If you have a sewage system and would like to participate in this course, please give us a call,'” he said.

In fact, Van Ry has a bad bathroom. He is the leader of South Platte Renew, a wastewater treatment plant in Englewood, Colorado, that serves 300,000 people. He filled out the application, and South Platte teamed up with the nation’s first manufacturing facilities to begin testing the wastewater for covid-19.

Now, as the federal government expands its pollution testing program, Colorado has begun expanding its statewide monitoring program. The state health department works with 47 sanitation facilities that serve about 60% of Colorado’s population.

People with SARS-CoV-2, a disease caused by covid-19, excrete viral RNA-genetic material from the disease-into their feces. In bad water tests, scientists use that RNA to tell what’s there.

Rachel Jervis, an epidemiologist with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, found that testing for wastewater can provide an early warning sign of a high covid prevalence. “We’ve seen that up to 50% of people will throw covid disease into their stool if they don’t have symptoms,” he said.

The state integrates data from different sources into a public dashboard. He shares his number with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About $ 9.4 million in federal funds will pay for the state’s wastewater testing program from January 2021 to July 2023.

From the beginning, lab results from the South Platte plant showed exactly what the disease was doing, Van Ry said: “It’s spreading fast in the community.” He showed a smooth flow of data from the samples. All the peaks are good: alpha, delta, and then an amazing spike led by the omicron trend at the start of 2022.

The South Platte company sends the collected wastewater samples to a Massachusetts company called Biobot Analytics. His mission: “counting the health benefits used by wastewater.”

The technology is available all over Colorado and across the country. The University of Colorado Mesa, in partnership with the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, is a first -time user in the state.

Denver County Sheriff Emily Travanty said the Colorado Department of Health began testing wastewater five years ago for foodborne illnesses such as salmonella. “We were able to convert that technology to covid-19 when the disease came out, and built on that technology in the factory,” he said.

Although the country originated in the US, it has been used abroad for many years to eradicate polio. “They use it like we do – to find the communities where polio is spreading and then use that as a reason to look for new drugs in those communities,” he said. and Amy Kirby, CDC microbiologist and team leader for the National Wastewater Surveillance System. said during a conference call.

In the fall of 2020, in the first weeks of the school year, a response team at the University of Denver began drawing samples from pipes on campus.

Corinne Lengsfeld, a mechanical engineer who guards the campus’s sap testing lab, said it was a type of waste water taken from one dorm at the beginning of the season that showed high levels of salt. do not. “There are a million pieces of virus in a liter,” he said. “Holy Toledo!”

School officials had a quick nose test. Waste water data, followed by a quick test, allows school officials to quickly identify and isolate 10 infectious students.

If not, Lengsfeld said, there would be perhaps 100 more students in the dorm of the 300 he had. “It’s working,” he said. “It’s really a research case, I think, how to control the spread.”

Jude Bayham, an assistant professor at Colorado State University and the Colorado School of Public Health, said that while overall covid conditions are improving and Colorado is rising to the next level – and perhaps lowering other tests – it continues the development of bad water that promises to rise. “Looking at wastewater is an easy option that can provide a lot of insight,” said Bayham, who is a member of the state’s covid modeling team.

Such information can lead to a coronavirus response.

Brandon Hinkhouse was seen standing next to a machine, wearing a thick winter coat, hat and gloves.
Brandon Hinkhouse, executive director at the South Platte Renew wastewater treatment plant in Englewood, Colorado, removed the snow from the equipment to collect samples to be tested for the coronavirus.(((Hart Van Denburg / Colorado Public Radio))

“We’re really excited about this new product,” said Dr. Rachel Herlihy. “Help us understand the differences within. It is very interesting for us to be aware of the emergence of new technologies. “

“We’re thinking about how to put it to good use,” Herlihy said.

Kirby, of the National Wastewater Surveillance System, said the CDC plans to use the system to monitor for infectious diseases, as well as other health problems, such as drug addiction.

“One of the strengths of looking at bad water is that it’s easy,” Kirby said. “So when we build this system to collect samples, take them to a laboratory, get the data to the CDC, we can integrate the tests for new pathogens very quickly.”

If a new pathogen of interest emerges, he said, they could deploy this system within a few weeks to start collecting community -level data.

This story is part of a partnership with Colorado Public Radio, NPR and KHN.

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