Aecom to test New Jersey sewage for early signs of Covid infections

US engineer Aecom is helping authorities in New Jersey test sewage in the state’s most populous county for early signs of Covid-19.

The operation for the Bergen County Utilities Authority (BCUA) will be carried out with Columbia University. Bergen County is part of the New York City Metropolitan Area.

In looking for traces of the coronavirus’ ribonucleic acid (RNA), researchers hope to locate outbreaks before they become apparent.

The Covid RNA is secreted by infected individuals before they develop symptoms, which could give authorities as much as two weeks’ advance warning of outbreaks in order to better mitigate them.

Julien Neals, Bergen County’s Administrator, commented: "By continuing to partner with Aecom and Columbia University on this programme’s expansion, we will be able to conduct a more comprehensive, systematic study that gives us the best available data to help determine emerging hotspots, inform public policy, and assist with the creation of infrastructure to evaluate vaccine effectiveness, once it is available to the public."

Paul Storella, senior vice president with Aecom’s water business, said: "Through our work with BCUA and Columbia University, we have seen impressive results demonstrating that wastewater testing provides an early signal of infection rates. This critical programme may assist government officials, first responders, and communities proactively manage surges in COVID-19 cases up to two weeks ahead of spikes."

A pilot programme for the testing was launched in spring. For this, the project team collected samples at the Little Ferry Water Pollution Control Facility six days a week at six different points within the plant and at various points within the sewer collection system.

Molecular testing – specifically, RT-qPCR testing – was then completed to determine the Covid-19 RNA concentrations. Statistical analysis was performed to correlate the data to actual outbreaks.

This pilot was deemed a success and will now be expanded.

Image: Bergen County, in north New Jersey, borders on Manhattan (Hisland7/CC BY-SA 3.0)

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