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NEO Regional Sewer District among several wastewater treatment plants being tested for COVID-19

Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District
Posted at 11:18 AM, Jul 21, 2020

COLUMBUS, Ohio — As part of a study with the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) and the Ohio EPA, the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District will provide samples of its wastewater treatment plants to determine the presence of coronavirus ribonucleic acid (RNA) fragments, according to a release from the ODH.

Health officials said the virus RNA fragments are present in the feces of those who are both symptomatic and asymptomatic for COVID-19. Researchers at The Ohio State University, where the study is being conducted, said data provided from samples in sewage collection systems’ raw wastewater could provide an early warning sign of the disease.

Based on emerging science at both a national and international level, it has been suggested that the virus in infected individuals can be detected in wastewater about three to seven days before there are increases in cases and/or hospitalizations.

The initial round of sampling is being conducted with wastewater utility departments in some of Ohio’s largest municipal areas, including Cleveland, Columbus, Akron, Toledo, Cincinnati, and Dayton.

"We’re starting with the largest cities because that represents the largest population for the state and it reflects where we’re seeing most of the cases," said Rebecca Fugitt, Assistant Chief for the Bureau of Environment Health and Radiation at the Ohio Department of Health.

Researchers hope the data from this study could help public health officials to better estimate viral loads as a leading indicator of disease occurrence in the community, and help understand trends and effectiveness of community interventions to limit the spread of disease.

"Out of the 120 million gallons that may flow through on a normal day about a liter of that may go into the actual testing, but it’s representative of that 24-hour period," said Scott, Broski, Superintendent of Environmental Services at the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District. "With one test, we can test essentially everyone in the service area. So it’s a very fast and efficient way to get a really quick snapshot of the prevalence of the virus in the community as a whole."

Though the study won’t determine if wastewater with traces of coronavirus can make someone sick, officials assure the virus will be thoroughly treated and removed from wastewater streams.

"There’s no danger or concern about the treated wastewaters being discharged," said Fugitt.

The research study is funded by $2 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding. Additional information about the research, including sampling data, will be posted in the future on Ohio’s COVID-19 website sometime in August.

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