Brookfield taking part in statewide wastewater testing program

Angie Talken
Chillicothe News

The Brookfield Wastewater Treatment Plant is one out of more than 70 across the state taking part in the COVID-19 Sewershed Surveillance Project.

The project, which is a collaboration between the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS), Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and researchers at the University of Missouri – Columbia are collaborating on a statewide project to test wastewater for genetic markers of the virus that causes COVID-19. The project is funded by a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Epidemiology and Laboratory Capacity grant through the DHSS.

Justin Griffin, the chief operator of the Brookfield Wastewater Plant, said he was asked about participating in the program in June by DNR. After speaking to Brookfield city officials, they decided to take participate.

“Goal is to quantify the cases in a community or facility - can give that to help with guidance for people in positions to make decisions about what steps a city, county or region take with COVID,” he said.

Of the four samples, the city has received results back from, all have been positive for the Coronavirus in genetic materials, each sample has had a higher rate too.

While four samples in a row have had the virus, Griffin said that does mean there is a trend, for it to be considered trend, researchers say the result swill have to increase for months.

“The whole point is to continue looking for a trend - measuring how much genetic material there is in the sample - over time they want to see if there is an increase, staying stable or going down,” Griffin said.

The data generated from sewage testing will be helpful to researchers when understanding the distribution of the virus in Missouri, and monitoring long-term trends for indications of reemergence to inform mitigation efforts.

“This sewage testing can provide additional, population-level information about the presence and amount of virus in a community that is not captured by testing patients,” said Jonathan Garoutte, administrator of DHSS’s Section for Environmental Public Health. “People can be infected for up to 14 days before showing any symptoms, and they may not get tested. This testing can provide early awareness for local public health agencies and help direct testing and resources that protect public health.”

The idea for the project came from studies in the Netherlands, Italy and the United States that found a direct correlation between the amount of viral material in sewage and the number of reported cases within a given “sewershed,” or the area that drains into a community’s wastewater collection system.

According to a press release from DHSS, while the virus that causes COVID-19 is new, using wastewater for tracking disease is not a new technique. In the past, wastewater testing has proven useful in tracking diseases such as polio and norovirus, and could be a valuable tool for SARS-CoV-2 surveillance. The virus is shed in human feces, and it can be detected in wastewater by testing for specific genetic markers. Wastewater is not a significant transmission pathway for the virus.

Griffin said the testing measures are much like the Brookfield Wastewater Plant was already doing. For this specific test, a sample is taken every 30 minutes for a 24 hour period, then that sample is packaged and taken to the Linn County Health Center where it is picked up by a courier and taken to the University of Missouri-Columbia for testing.

Griffin said the cost to the city is minimal and is only in time employees spend transporting and packaging the sample.