It’s long been known that a sample of sewage drawn from the pipes in a neighborhood can be analyzed to find out what drugs are being used by people whose toilets flush into those pipes – which can be useful for studying the drug use habits of a population. This kind of sampling can also locate sources of unusual pollution, like the leakage of mercury or other industrial pollutants.
Coronavirus in sewage: Now, Oregon State University researchers are using the same techniques to look for coronavirus in the sewers of Albany, part of a nationwide study which hopes to make it easier to find small outbreaks before they can spread.
Could aid reopening: If the virus can be found in the drains of a school, for instance, then that school can be shut down while other schools are allowed to operate, and students and faculty at the school can all be tested to find which of them are infected. Because resources could then be focused, it also means a closed school may be reopened more quickly.
Water samples are collected at locations all over the city, pasteurized for safer handling and shipped to a Massachusetts company called Biobot, an MIT spinoff enterprise which exists to analyze sewage and other biological specimens. Albany is one of a hundred communities across the country taking part in the study, the next-nearest being in Washington County.
By John M. Burt