7/17/20

MEDIA CONTACTS:  Heidi Griesmer, Ohio EPA, (614) 644-2160
                                   ODH Office of Communications, (614) 644-8562

State Works With U.S. EPA and Ohio WRC at OSU to Test Wastewater Treatment Plants for COVID-19

The Ohio Department of Health (ODH) and Ohio EPA are coordinating with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Cincinnati and the Ohio Water Resources Center (Ohio WRC) at The Ohio State University on a monitoring study that includes sampling from several of Ohio’s municipal sewage and wastewater treatment systems to determine the presence of coronavirus ribonucleic acid (RNA) fragments. 

Virus RNA fragments are present in the feces of those who are both symptomatic and asymptomatic for COVID-19. Through this research initiative, data from samples gathered in sewage collection systems’ raw wastewater may provide an early warning of disease occurrence in a community and possibly an estimation of the disease prevalence. Emerging science at both the national and international level suggests that the virus in infected individuals can be detected in wastewater about 3 to 7 days before there are increases in cases and/or hospitalizations. 

For Ohio, this research may unlock important tools for public health officials to better estimate viral loads as a leading indicator of disease occurrence in a community, to help understand disease trends, and to inform or assess the effectiveness of community interventions to limit the spread of disease. 

The research is being supported by $2 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding, and the project is being led by the Ohio WRC at OSU in coordination with other Ohio academic partners, including the University of Toledo, University of Akron, and Kent State University. It is anticipated that the research will expand to include other universities across the state with laboratory capabilities. 

The initial round of sampling is being coordinated in partnership with wastewater utility departments in some of Ohio’s largest municipal areas, including Columbus, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Akron, Toledo, and Dayton. The research team is actively reaching out to other communities and it is anticipated that additional municipalities, including medium and small community systems, will participate in the research. 

U.S. EPA is a partner in these research efforts and ODH and Ohio EPA are closely coordinating with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on this research. Ohio’s leadership role in this research will help advance this emerging scientific area and provide important data to public health officials statewide.

Additional information about the research, including sampling data, will be posted in the future on Ohio’s COVID-19 website. Citizens with questions about the project can contact their local health department or the Ohio Department of Health for more information.

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The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency was created in 1972 to consolidate efforts to protect and improve air quality, water quality and waste management in Ohio. Since then, air pollutants dropped by as much as 90 percent; large rivers meeting standards improved from 21 percent to 89 percent; and hundreds of polluting, open dumps were replaced with engineered landfills and an increased emphasis on waste reduction and recycling.

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