Lessons learned from SARS-CoV-2 measurements in wastewater

Mark E. Sharkey, Naresh Kumar, Alejandro M.A. Mantero, Kristina M. Babler, Melinda M. Boone, Yoslayma Cardentey, Elena M. Cortizas, George S. Grills, James Herrin, Jenny M. Kemper, Richard Kenney, Erin Kobetz, Jennifer Laine, Walter E. Lamar, Christopher C. Mader, Christopher E. Mason, Anda Z. Quintero, Brian D. Reding, Matthew A. Roca, Krista RyonNatasha Schaefer Solle, Stephan C. Schürer, Bhavarth Shukla, Mario Stevenson, Thomas Stone, John J. Tallon, Sreeharsha S. Venkatapuram, Dusica Vidovic, Sion L. Williams, Benjamin Young, Helena M. Solo-Gabriele

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Standardized protocols for wastewater-based surveillance (WBS) for the RNA of SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for the current COVID-19 pandemic, are being developed and refined worldwide for early detection of disease outbreaks. We report here on lessons learned from establishing a WBS program for SARS-CoV-2 integrated with a human surveillance program for COVID-19. We have established WBS at three campuses of a university, including student residential dormitories and a hospital that treats COVID-19 patients. Lessons learned from this WBS program address the variability of water quality, new detection technologies, the range of detectable viral loads in wastewater, and the predictive value of integrating environmental and human surveillance data. Data from our WBS program indicated that water quality was statistically different between sewer sampling sites, with more variability observed in wastewater coming from individual buildings compared to clusters of buildings. A new detection technology was developed based upon the use of a novel polymerase called V2G. Detectable levels of SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater varied from 102 to 106 genomic copies (gc) per liter of raw wastewater (L). Integration of environmental and human surveillance data indicate that WBS detection of 100 gc/L of SARS-CoV-2 RNA in wastewater was associated with a positivity rate of 4% as detected by human surveillance in the wastewater catchment area, though confidence intervals were wide (β ~ 8.99 ∗ ln(100); 95% CI = 0.90–17.08; p < 0.05). Our data also suggest that early detection of COVID-19 surges based on correlations between viral load in wastewater and human disease incidence could benefit by increasing the wastewater sample collection frequency from weekly to daily. Coupling simpler and faster detection technology with more frequent sampling has the potential to improve the predictive potential of using WBS of SARS-CoV-2 for early detection of the onset of COVID-19.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number149177
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - Dec 1 2021


  • Concentration
  • Detection
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Sampling
  • Wastewater
  • Wastewater based surveillance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


Dive into the research topics of 'Lessons learned from SARS-CoV-2 measurements in wastewater'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this