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

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.

The Wastewater4COVID project aims to develop a method for early detection of the coronavirus
The project Wastewater4COVID project will test and implement the method in South-Africa and The Netherlands simultaneously, which allows for comparison of 2 different contexts. By combining wastewater data (under the ground) with epidemiological data (above the ground), the method can inform health authorities about the virus’s distribution, support them in their monitoring efforts, and assist with an effective outbreak response.
The Wastewater4COVID project is a Public-Private Partnership between Waternet and Blue Deal, both public organisations, Royal Haskoning DHV, an international engineering consultancy firm and KWR. The collaborating project in South Africa is connected through the EUREKA programme ‘Solutions for COVID-19 echo period – life without vaccines’.

Monitoring of coronavirus in wastewater in Peru
The Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Peru is interested in developing a pilot research project to determine the traceability of SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater. This could eventually support the development of an early warning system and an effective strategy to combat the pandemic in Peru, one of the world’s most affected countries.
From December 2020 to June 2021, stakeholders will be identified in the first phase of the project, looking for the best partners for possible follow-up activities. During this phase, monitoring locations will be sought with local partners, and a basic water quality model will be set up for wastewater, stormwater and drainage in Chiclayo.
The results of the first phase of the project will provide a first indication of the potential of early warning and yield additional insights into possible transmission routes of SARS-CoV-2 and other water-borne pathogens. These data can guide the COVID-19 response in Chiclayo. By developing an early warning system, monitoring SARS-CoV-2 and other pathogens in wastewater could support targeted interventions in public health and water management, including preventive measures.

Pilot project to monitor the circulation of COVID-19 in sewage water collected in the city of Nairobi
KWR joined forces with the Nairobi Metropolitan Services (NMS) – Directorate of Health Services, International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company (NCWSC) to monitor the circulation of COVID-19 in sewage in the city of Nairobi.
The partners will analyse wastewater for SARS-CoV-2 and compare the sewage data with the epidemiological data on the spread of COVID-19 in Nairobi. The sewage monitoring aims to interpret the observed trends better and detect potential outbreaks in Nairobi at an early stage. The partners will develop an online platform to visualise the trend data and communicate developments of the spread of the virus to the Nairobi Metropolitan Services and other relevant Kenyan authorities.
The project has received funds from the NL Business department of the Dutch Entrepreneurial Development Bank (FMO), KWR, NMS – Directorate of Health Services, ILRI, NCWSC, and Waternet.

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 .