National Wastewater Epidemiology Surveillance Programme

This National Wastewater Epidemiology Surveillance Programme (N-WESP) project led by Dr Andrew Singer of UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH) is tasked with developing a standardised UK-wide system for detecting and quantifying SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater, in order to provide an early warning of future outbreaks and reduce reliance on costly testing of large populations. This large research programme includes experts who are developing or optimising sampling and concentration techniques, RT-qPCR quantification, normalisation, RNA sequencing, and scientific modelling methods to help guide government agencies and scientists across the UK who are fighting the Covid-19 pandemic. The work will inform the UK national surveillance programmes recently announced by Defra and the Scottish and Welsh Governments.

Academic staff: Prof David Graham (School of Engineering)
Researchers: Dr Marcos Quintela Baluja (School of Engineering) and Dr Kelly Jobling (School of Engineering)
Sponsor: Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)
Partners: UKCEH and the universities of Bangor, Bath, Edinburgh, Cranfield, Lancaster, Oxford, and Sheffield, plus the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.
Start Date: 2020
End Date: 2021

Summary of the main infection pathways by which SARS-CoV-2 can theoretically contaminate the environment and cause secondary infections. The numbers denote the major pathogen transport routes and exposure points: (1) contamination of toilets by infected individuals, aerosolization of feces/urine, faulty plumbing in buildings (2) pathogen transfer in the sewer network and potential exposure to sanitation workers in the sewer network, (3) discharge of untreated contaminated wastewater to rivers (sewer overflows), (4) release in bioaerosols from wastewater treatment plants and exposure of workers to potentially contaminated wastewater, (5) release of treated wastewater to rivers, (6) disposal of wastewater-derived biosolids to land, (7) transport in freshwater and exposure of individuals during recreational activities, (8) abstraction of river water for human consumption, (9) breaks in sewage pipes leading to groundwater contamination (10) hospital/medical centre release of wastewater, (11) contamination of groundwater from burial of infected bodies, (12) irrigation of crops with potentially contaminated water abstracted from rivers, (13) contamination of marine waters, dispersal in the coastal zone and potential contamination of fish/shellfish and people engaging in recreational activities (Fig. 5. in Jones et al. 2020).