Wastewater SPHERE

Wastewater SARS Public Health Environmental REsponse


To Advance environmental surveillance of sewage to inform local and global efforts for monitoring and supporting public health measures to combat disease.


The goals of the Wastewater SPHERE are to serve as a global data center and provide databases (geospatial and tabular) for organizations and individuals testing for SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater and other waterways. This will include:

  • Integration of data generated through the field deployments
  • Integration of data produced from high-income countries Dashboards
  • Development of approaches for visualizing and presenting global data sets on the virus in sewage.
  • Provision of access to global data for scientific advancements
  • Providing Use-Case Studies addressing the role of wastewater surveillance in the global COVID-19 response.

PATH, Michigan State University, KWR Water Research Institute, UC Merced and Venthic are collaborating to develop a repository of databases (geospatial and tabular) for organizations and individuals testing for SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater and other waterways.

Rationale and Societal Benefits

It is now known that SARS-CoV-2 can infect gastrointestinal glandular epithelial cells1 and is excreted in feces of infected and asymptomatic individuals (30 to 50%), those with mild symptoms as well as those severely impacted2-7 and can be found in wastewater8-39. While SARS-CoV-2 is not very robust in stool and wastewater, and there are no epidemiological signals that faecal transmission is a relevant transmission route, the ability to detect RNA of SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater opens up the possibility for wastewater surveillance of COVID-19. Using the same primers and PCR approaches that are used to screen individual people, environmental virology and microbiology laboratories around the world are working with the wastewater utilities and professionals to monitor wastewater in order to quantify the virus and link to community infection and health. Monitoring for viruses in wastewater has been ongoing for 70 years. The SARS-CoV-2 is not considered a waterborne pathogen, however, like the global surveillance of poliovirus program, wastewater surveillance has the potential to provide a real-time view of trends in community infection while public health struggles to monitor individuals and obtain good data to support social distancing and economic reopening policy decisions. In addition, knowledge on levels of removal by wastewater treatment processes when combined with knowledge on persistence and susceptibility to disinfection will provide both the workers at the wastewater facility and the public with greater confidence regarding the control of any potential for waterborne transmission.

This work will be built upon the current knowledge platform as it is directly aligned and synergistic with the Global Water Pathogens Project’s (GWPP) mission to provide knowledge on pathogens in sewage. Progress on visualization for the Knowledge to Practice (K2P) has been ongoing to ensure usability of the Pathogen Flow and Pathogen Mapping tools and knowledge translation. This experience will translate directly and quickly to the W-SPHERE project.

Data Visualization and Data Access

Currently, over 1400 sites including of cities and counties (regional systems) across the world, scientists and utilities are monitoring wastewater for SARS-CoV-2 or have communicated that they will be setting up for monitoring soon. (see COVIDpoops).

Working with dashboards, utilities and laboratories, our interdisciplinary team of environmental virologists and public health specialists, as well as engineering professionals will develop a global database. The data will also be visualized on dynamic/updated maps on a global and country scale with options to zoom in regionally at a spatial level that will protect the anonymity of the facility and enable examination of the spatial and temporal trends of SARS-CoV-2. Heat maps and loading maps will also be explored.

Public health use case

Around the world, city, state and national leaders are making decisions on how to respond to the pandemic, allocate resources and ultimately reopen communities. Sewage provides a window to view early trends in community infection, earlier than other surveillance systems, and has the potential to assist in these decisions. This could benefit society greatly.


Sheryl Hamlin (not verified)

I was pleased to find your site. With governments considering the use of refined wastewater as a drinking water source, I am concerned about unintended consequences of pathogens introduced into the drinking water. I will look forward to your studies about this topic Thanks.

Mon, 03/29/2021 - 17:48
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