Testing Wastewater for Coronavirus

The City of Windsor is taking part in an initiative to test local wastewater for evidence of the COVID-19 virus, which could help provide an early indicator if cases are increasing in the community.

Wastewater samples are being taken from the Lou Romano and Little River Pollution Control plants and then analyzed by a team led by Mike McKay, Executive Director and Professor at the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research (GLIER) at the University of Windsor in cooperation with Ontario biotech company S.M. Research, Inc.

To date testing has shown evidence that the genetic signal for the COVID-19 virus can be detected in Windsor’s untreated wastewater.

“This research follows on a long partnership between GLIER and Pollution Control in Windsor. 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,” said McKay, noting that many infections may go undetected. “I like to think of the sewer system as a non-invasive ‘community swab,’ providing a glimpse into the collective health of those living in the community.”

The science to monitor wastewater for COVID-19 is still in its infancy, but it is showing promise.

 “Our staff are equipped with and trained in the use of personal protective equipment and know how to work safely with wastewater containing viruses and pathogens,” said Senior Manager of Pollution Control Jake Renaud.  “If we can use wastewater testing to help in the fight against COVID-19, we’re happy to do it.”

Residents should note, this testing takes place at the untreated stage of wastewater treatment, before it proceeds to our advanced multi-stage filtration system, and research has shown that the COVID-19 virus is effectively inactivated in the wastewater treatment disinfection process.

The Windsor-Essex County Health Unit is supportive of the project, which follows a framework that has been used globally and has produced promising results for the early detection of potential community infections.

General COVID-19 Safety Reminders:

  • Wash your hands regularly and thoroughly;
  • Cough or sneeze into your sleeve or a tissue;
  • Keep surfaces clean and disinfected;
  • Stay home unless it is essential to go out and stay home when you are sick;
  • Practice physical distancing (2 metres); and
  • Wear a non-medical cloth mask in commercial establishments and in settings where physical distancing cannot be maintained.

For more safety tips and practices, visit the Windsor Essex County Health Unit website. For more information on municipal matters related to COVID-19, visit www.citywindsor.ca/covid-19.

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