Local sewer service provider Central Contra Costa Sanitary District (Central San) is utilizing its facilities to help in the fight against the rampant coronavirus by participating in a regional wastewater monitoring project that tracks SARS-CoV-2 -- the virus that causes COVID-19.
Officially launching in November, Central San has been collecting wastewater samples three times per week at its treatment plant, checking for trends and warning signs of rising coronavirus rates. Staff said the information will help enable county and state health officials to track overall infections rates throughout the region.
"Wastewater is a rich source of information about the health of the population it comes from. As the pandemic continues to surge across the country, scientists and public health officials are increasingly turning to wastewater-based epidemiology to help spot early warning signs of rising infection rates, track trends, and monitor hot spots," Central San staff said.
As a part of the sampling process, the district has also been conducting weekly samplings at one of its metering stations where wastewater from the Concord area enters Central San's sewer system. Staff say these samples -- taken farther "upstream" on the district's system -- will help provide researchers with "a more focused picture" of virus levels in a specific area.
Located in Martinez, the district's treatment plant services and cleans water for nearly half a million residents in Contra Costa County, including more than 140,000 residents of Concord and Clayton.
"We're still in the early stages, but it's an exciting opportunity," said Central San associate engineer Amanda Cauble, who has been spearheading the district's COVID-19 research efforts along with senior engineer Dan Frost, laboratory superintendent Mary Lou Esparza, senior chemist Blake Brown and others.
"We're eager to help where we can and support the emerging science around COVID-19 and wastewater," Brown added.
The research program was initiated as a part of a collaborative effort led by the University of California at Berkeley, which itself created a new laboratory specifically designed to provide rapid detection of SARS-CoV-2 RNA genetic material in wastewater.
Through the creation of the lab, UC Berkeley has also coordinated with Bay Area public health departments -- including Contra Costa Health Services -- to provide information and determine what data is most helpful in responding to the pandemic.
Beyond the fight against COVID, Central San staff say research and data collected lays the foundation for responding to future outbreaks of disease other than the coronavirus.
"We're learning a lot about wastewater-based epidemiology as a tool," Brown said in a statement. "And that will make it easier to mobilize next time."