Montville WPCA on the lookout for COVID-19
Montville ― Once again, the Water Pollution Control Authority is checking wastewater for traces of COVID-19.
WPCA Superintendent Derek Albertson recently said that the authority has partnered with Biobot Analytics, a Cambridge, Mass. based company, to conduct wastewater-based epidemiology, or periodically check samples of the town’s wastewater for spikes in the virus.
“What’s fantastic about it is Biobot and I share a common goal (which) is that wastewater treatment plants should help the overall health of community,” Albertson said.
Founded by a first-year MIT PhD student, Mariana Matus, and Newsha Ghaeli, an urban studies researcher, Biobot claims to be the first company in the world to commercialize data from sewage.
The company’s mission is “to transform wastewater infrastructure into public health observatories,” per its website.
Albertson said the town previously worked with doctoral students at UConn on the same type of surveillance. He explained that once a wastewater baseline is established, UConn was able to watch for an increased presence of COVID-19 in the subsequent samples, and thus indicating an increase in infections in the community.
Albertson said the process allows health centers to get a four-day “head start” on preparing for an uptick in patients. The town would be able to notify the Uncas Health District Health Director Patrick McCormack, and the disease control officers at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital and Backus Hospital.
The process would also allow for the town to see when cases began to dissipate and allow the community to “re-open.”
“Getting ahead of it is the key,” Albertson said.
The town worked with UConn during 2021 and for a small portion of 2022 before the graduate program concluded.
Recently, Biobot reached out to Albertson to offer its services at no charge as Montville fit the population size the company is interested in working with. Albertson said 75% of the town is connected to the sewer system and is one of 450 water systems working with Biobot.
“We would be remiss if we didn’t reach out and establish a relationship with them,” Albertson added.
Albertson said the town should be receiving its eight sample kits this week and, in about a week, will have results.
Though COVID-19 case numbers are on the decline in the state, Albertson said it is still important to stay diligent. He pointed to China as more than one billion people have been infected since virus-control methods were dismantled in late 2022.
Alberston said the longer the virus incubates, the greater the chance it significantly mutates.
“To be able to be proactive if that (strain), or any other came in, we could find it based by concentrations,” Albertson said.
Alberston added that wastewater surveillance is not specific to a singular home or neighborhood, but is for the health community at large. The process also works for finding opioids, monkeypox and other viruses. He believes such surveillance is “growing and growing” in popularity.
Biobot has also partnered with the Boston Public Health Commission to test wastewater at 11 locations in the city. Last year the company was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential companies in the world.