UW professor awarded over $1 Million to test wastewater for COVID-19

1

Mark Servos, biology professor at UW and a member of the Water Institute was awarded over $1 million in provincial funding to test wastewater for the presence of COVID-19 in more than 10 regions of Ontario. 

This funding is part of the $12 million initiative toward wastewater testing announced by Jeff Yurek, the Ontario Minister of Environment, Conservation and Parks on Mar. 18. 

“The University of Waterloo has been one of the pioneers in Ontario doing wastewater testing,” Servos said, “Since wastewater is a collective sample of an entire area, this approach provides a complimentary tool for regional public health units to identify influxes in COVID-19 cases.”

Servos said he believes that SARS-CoV-2 can be detected in wastewater. When his team was asked how COVID-19 can be detected, they explained that as the virus is introduced into city systems from sources such as stool, it can break down and degrade as it enters wastewater collection systems. According to Servos, these viral fragments can be detected in municipal wastewater and can be amplified. Though he said this can be difficult as COVID-19 fragments are hard to find in large amounts of complex wastewater, with novel approaches it can provide valuable information about community outbreaks.

The province partnered with 13 different academic and research institutions to create a system that would allow for the testing of wastewater in hopes of detecting and managing COVID-19 outbreaks across Southern Ontario. Servos and his peers began their research in the Summer of 2020, a few months after the first COVID-19 outbreaks in Ontario.

Servos currently runs a research laboratory with a focus on ecotoxicology and integrated water resources management. The majority of the researchers’ work revolves around developing new tools and approaches to risk assessment, along with novel technology for water treatment.

Testing wastewater for COVID-19 allows Servos and his team to provide an alternative method to understand how COVID-19 is transmitted through communities. This approach allows for the monitoring of millions of individuals within a community at any given time. Servos believes this is an advantage that public health agencies did not have with individual testing, and this work advances our understanding of this pandemic.