Windsor starts testing wastewater for COVID-19

The University of Windsor's Welcome Centre. (Photo by Alexandra Latremouille)

The City of Windsor has signed on to a project that could give public health officials an early heads up if cases of COVID-19 are increasing in the community.

Wastewater from the Lou Romano and Little River Pollution Control plants will be screened for the virus.

A team from the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research at the University of Windsor and Ontario biotech firm, S.M. Research Inc., will test the samples.

In May, GLIER Director Mike McKay said Lakeshore and Amherstburg had already signed on to the project. A team from Michigan State University is testing samples from the City of Detroit.

“This research follows a long partnership between GLIER and Pollution Control in Windsor,” said McKay, who says many infections go undetected. “Pivoting and extending our expertise and resources to wastewater monitoring, we are confident that the approach will be a valuable tool to public health and may provide an early alert to a second wave of infections in the community.”

The science is in its infancy but shows promise.

Whether symptomatic or not, people shed RNA from COVID-19 in their waste. Some non-peer-reviewed data back in March suggested it was possible to detect the virus in raw sewage.

The samples will be taken at the untreated stage of wastewater treatment before it proceeds to the advanced multi-stage filtration system. The virus is rendered inactive in the disinfection process.

“Our staff are equipped with and trained in the use of personal protective equipment, and know-how to work safely with wastewater containing these viruses and pathogens,” said Jake Renaud, the senior manager of pollution control for the City of Windsor. “If we can use wastewater testing to help in the fight against COVID-19, we are happy to do it.”