No trace of COVID-19 in London’s wastewater

Greenway Wastewater Treatment Centre in London. Photo from Google Maps Street View.

A new pilot project is looking for signs of COVID-19 in Londoners’ waste.

The City of London is participating in an initiative to test wastewater for evidence of the virus. It is believed this testing could provide an early indicator if cases are increasing in the community.

Between July 16 and 19, samples were taken daily from the Greenway Wastewater Treatment Plant, which treats roughly 60 per cent of the city’s wastewater. The samples were then analyzed by a team at the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research at the University of Windsor.

No evidence of the genetic signal of the COVID-19 virus was found in the samples, city officials said on Monday.

“This is an exciting and innovative technology available to London,” Scott Mathers, London’s director of water and wastewater, said in a statement. “These early results are encouraging and will provide the Middlesex-London Health Unit and London’s hospitals additional information to help fight the virus.”

More samples will be taken this week.

City officials have cautioned that the science around testing wastewater for COVID-19 is still in its infancy and that the negative samples do not indicate that the virus is no longer in the community. As such, they are reminding Londoners to continue to maintain physical distancing and follow social gathering restrictions.

The pilot project is being conducted as part of the Middlesex Health Unit’s participation in the Canadian Coalition on Wastewater-Related COVID-19 Research, a national collaboration of municipalities, utilities, scientists, public health agencies, and governments led by the Canadian Water Network.