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COVID-19 in Waste Waters

Since the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, wastewater has been investigated as a means to identify the virus presence in the community, both within the EU and internationally. Data gathered so far indicate that surveillance of wastewater is a cheap and reliable tool to track the virus presence. This should be done in conjunction with the information collected on the prevalence of the virus from other sources such as swab testing, blood test, tracing apps.

In light of the progression of the pandemic and the emergence of a second wave in several countries, tracking the presence of the virus in wastewater is highly recommended, as a relatively cheap and reliable way of gathering essential information. It should be used in conjunction with other public health indicators and can be very useful to establish and adjust public health management strategies. The tool also appears useful in providing targeted ad hoc support in less favoured countries where epidemiological data are not available.

In summary:

  • Information gathered so far show a direct correlation between the quantities of the Covid19 virus found in wastewaters and the number of persons infected in the corresponding area.
  • Waste water surveillance can be effectively used as:
  • preventive or early warning tool – as soon as the virus is detected, this should be taken as a signal of a possible (re)emergence of the pandemic;
  • management tool – absence of the virus in wastewater could indicate that the corresponding zone can be considered as of low risk;
  • safety net – if the virus is detected in wastewater but the testing of the resident population is negative, investigations of undetected infection sources should be undertaken.
  • Data from wastewater surveillance should always be used as a complement to epidemiological data. Where no such epidemiological data are available, information on the presence of the virus in wastewater can help in designing the most effective assistance strategies to the benefit of less-favoured countries and social categories.
  • Tracking wastewater is a cost-effective preparedness and resilience tool: securing effective surveillance of 1 treatment plant requires ca. 25 000 €/year.[1]
  • Tracking viruses’ presence at regular interval in wastewaters can also be useful to anticipate possible new pandemics[2]next to future ‘waves’ of the current one. 

DG ENV with the support of JRC has elaborated the attached memo. The purpose of the memo is to (1) synthetize the main results obtained so far; and (2) draw first conclusions and recommendations. This memo is expected to be regularly updated as science and research is rapidly evolving. Most of the results included in this memo are extracted from the JRC/ENV project on the feasibility assessment for an EU-wide Wastewater Monitoring System for SARS-CoV-2 Surveillance. More information available here.

Recommendation on monitoring COVID-19 and its variants in wastewaters in the EU

In March 2021, the Commission adopted a Recommendation on monitoring COVID-19 and its variants in wastewaters in the EU. The aim is to provide new independent information on the presence of Covid-19 and its variant in wastewaters. This will be an important source of additional and complementary information for public health decision-making. The Recommendation asks the Member States to put in place wastewater surveillance systems by October 2021, ensuring that relevant data is promptly provided to the competent health authorities. Common methods for sampling, measurement and data analysis, supported by a European exchange platform should be made available and used in practice to ensure that the collected data is reliable and comparable. Financial support will be provided by the EU to the Member States but also to neighbouring countries to set up this monitoring system or to expand it to variants analysis in the Member States having already such a surveillance system in place.   The EU Commission will also put in place an exchange IT platform to ensure that best practices but also results from the monitoring system are shared. This Recommendation is part of a set of COVID-19 measures adopted by the Commission as announced in the European preparedness plan entitled the ‘HERA Incubator’.

View the Recommendation.

Useful information concerning Urban Waste Water

[1] Average cost based on two analysis per week – valuable for large waste water treatments (up to 1M inhabitants). For comparison: the development of the CORONA warn app in Germany costed 22.7 Mio € plus an estimated of 2.5 – 3.5 Mio € of monthly running costs

[2] This risk was recently highlighted in a IPBES publication – see: