EU-wide Wastewater Warning System for SARS-CoV-2

The European Commission’s Joint Research Centre and the Directorate-General for Environment, in close collaboration with leading experts from the Dutch Water Research Institute KWR and the Rheinisch-Westfälische Technische Hochschule in Aachen (RWTH) and supported by Water Europe and EUREAU, are setting up an adhoc pan-European Assessment aiming at the development of a wastewater-based warning system for SARS-CoV-2 and exchange of experiences in SARS-CoV-2 monitoring in wastewater.

Evidence is increasing that untreated wastewater is a good indicator of the presence of the virus in a population. The ability to detect the current SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater is increasingly being reported independently by various research groups as a possible way to better quantify and understand its approximate overall presence in the population. Upon the first confirmation of the virus RNA appearing in stools of COVID-19 patients, research groups in the Netherlands (KWR & RIVM), Australia, United States, France, Italy, Spain and Austria have successfully established a relationship between the virus’s concentration in influents to wastewater treatment plant and the reported COVID-19 cases in the population in question.

Thus, wastewater surveillance of SARS-CoV-2 is likely a valuable and efficient tool to monitor virus circulation in EU cities and towns and could serve as early warning for re-emergence. Likewise, such data, if collected and produced in a harmonised form, can be potentially correlated with concentrations of anti-viral drugs and other pharmaceuticals used in the treatment of COVID-19. In order to gather the ongoing efforts and to streamline protocols while facilitating the exchange of knowledge, the Joint Research Centre is now organizing a joint pan-European project.

A spontaneous snapshot exercise is taking place employing a previously used EU-wide monitoring mechanism at a selected number of wastewater treatment plants (preferably with information about the infection levels in the connected catchment areas). This data and methods will be shared as a standard reference to enable the direct comparison between individual research activities that are taking place thus constituting a Wastewater Sentinel System for SARS-CoV-2. Apart from monitoring, webinars and web-conferences will be organized once data are available.