KWR offers wastewater surveillance guidance as an early warning system for SARS-CoV-2

Jan Vreeburg PhD MSc, Prof. Gertjan Medema PhD, Frederic Béen PhD, Ronald Italiaander BSc, Hans Ruijgers MA, Rinske Potjewijd MSc

  • Start date
    03 Feb 2020
  • End date
    31 Dec 2020
  • collaborating partners
    Cities, small communities, closed population (such as campuses, nursing homes and ships)

As Covid-19 infections are increasing again after the initial lockdowns, it is now critical to set up a surveillance and monitoring system for COVID-19. KWR can assist you with analysis, validation, quality control, sampling and monitoring programmes.

KWR Water Research Institute has demonstrated that genetic traces of SARS-CoV-2 in sewage correlate with COVID-19 disease trends in the population and reported that the RNA concentrations could provide a 4- to 7-day advanced notice ahead of COVID-19 confirmed case data. Hence wastewater surveillance can serve as an early warning of SARS-CoV-2 community transmission.

This approach is applicable at wastewater treatment plants, sewered communities, non-sewered communities and all other human wastes streams such as sludge collection facilities or septic tanks. It is suitable for surveillance in cities, small communities and closed population such as campuses, nursing homes and ships.

KWR reported the first detection of SARS-CoV-2 in sewage in February 2020

KWR has a long history in Water-based Epidemiology (WBE). Prof. Gertjan Medema reported the detection of SARS-CoV-2 in sewage in February 2020. A study posted on March 30th on MedRxiv reported that a sample collected from Amersfoort, the Netherlands, tested positive for the virus six days before the first COVID-19 case was diagnosed in the city, indicating that wastewater surveillance can serve as an early warning system.

KWR has been sharing its data weekly with the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM). They have included sewage monitoring in the National Corona dashboard.

International projects and collaborations fuel new research

KWR has engaged in various international projects to further develop and implement sewage surveillance as an early warning system for new outbreaks.

Sewers4COVID is a prototype that can quickly and cost-efficiently detect outbreak hotspots at the national scale. The prototype utilises the sewer surveillance methodology developed by Prof. Medema and Artificial Intelligence techniques to forecast pandemic outbreaks in real-time. It also considers socio-economic conditions to identify the vulnerable groups that are at high risk.  The prototype won a major hackathon organised by the EU: #EUvsVirus.

Pan-European project (European Commission’s Joint Research Centre and Directorate-General for Environment)

The European Commission’s Joint Research Centre and the Directorate-General for Environment, in close collaboration with KWR and the Rheinisch-Westfälische Technische Hochschule in Aachen (RWTH), 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.

Top Consortium for Knowledge and Innovation (TKI) project (NL)

A consortium consisting of, among others, the Erasmus Medical Centre (Virology, Family Medicine, Medical Informatics), STOWA, RHDHV, Partners4UrbanWater, water authorities and KWR Water Research Institute will conduct further investigations in the Rijnmond area. It has received funding from organisations including the Dutch Foundation for Applied Water Research (STOWA), the Erasmus Foundation and the Water Technology Top Consortium for Knowledge and Innovation. Among others, this project will investigate how to detect and measure SARS-CoV-2  as efficiently as possible in a district or entire cities, and how to best display the information in an easy-to-understand ‘dashboard’ to support decisions making.

KWR can assist you with analysis, validation, quality control, sampling programmes and monitoring systems

Based on its expertise and facilities, KWR can provide:

  1. Sampling strategy: Design sampling plan (locations and frequency) for optimal information on virus spread.
  2. Samples analysis: Process and test samples.
  3. Analysis capacity: Set up programs to develop analysis capacity and to support quality control.
  4. Data processing: Set up reporting system for tracking and visualisation (online platform).
  5. Advanced modelling: Combine data with other datasets and pandemic models to monitor effects of interventions. Create early warning platform and reports (online data).
  6. Advanced approach advising: Identify sub-catchment sampling and modelling approaches. Co-create user interfaces for different stakeholders.
  7. Risk-based assessment methodology for virus outbreaks: Develop virus monitoring methodology based on best practice.

Wastewater surveillance provides an early warning and monitoring method that can be pivotal in decision making, with the ultimate goals to manage an existing outbreak better and make society, community and workplace resilient to a new epidemic.

Publications and media coverage

A full overview of scientific publications and international media coverage is available on the KWR website.

Covid-19 sewage research explained in images



Video – 01:17
What we learn about the Corona virus through waste water research


More questions?

You can find the answer to the most frequently asked questions on our FAQ website page. For additional information, please reach out to Jan Vreeburg at