Catalan Water Research Institute research and innovation for the sustainable use of water

The ICRA is part of the working group created by the Government of the Generalitat to control the presence of the Sars-CoV-2 virus in waste water

Tuesday, 21 July 2020

The Government has been informed of the creation and work of the monitoring group promoted by the ACA with the aim of identifying the possible presence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus at several sewage treatment plants in the Catalan regions from analysis of waste water. This initiative, with an initial investment of around 400,000 euros, includes weekly and fortnightly controls in fifty-six Catalan treatment plants. It is a complementary tool for the Department of Health in the control and monitoring of the pandemic.

A total of thirty-four urban sewage treatment plants will be monitored weekly throughout the period, three will be monitored weekly in summer, three weekly in winter and the remaining sixteen will be monitored fortnightly. In this way, there will be results from forty-five sewage treatment plants. The aim of this project is to detect the possible presence of genes and observe their evolution in each plant, given that the ability to detect SARS-CoV-2 RNA in wastewater has been demonstrated between six and twenty -and-a day before the first cases are diagnosed.

The Catalan Water Agency (ACA) has promoted the creation of a working group that includes experts from the scientific world. The project has the experience and knowledge of theCatalan Water Research Institute (ICRA), who coordinates the work group; with the participation of two specialized laboratories of the Barcelona University (the Laboratory of Molecular Biology of Enteric Viruses and the Laboratory of Viruses, Bacteria and Protozoa of interest in Public Health and Food Safety), andEURECAT, which at the same time participate in the initiative promoted by the European Commission “SEWERS4COVID” for this matter.

Control in 80% of waste water

Catalonia currently has 527 sewage treatment plants that treat the waste water of 97.1% of the Catalan population. It must be taken into account, however, that thirty-five of these treatment plants treat 80% of the total waste water, as they are plants located in the most populated areas of Catalonia.

The program envisages the periodic collection (weekly or fortnightly, as the case may be) of a water sample from the inlet collectors at fifty-six urban waste water treatment plants spread throughout the country. These fifty-six sewage treatment plants have been selected according to criteria of population served and territorial representation.

The fortnightly controls in sixteen sewage treatment plants are carried out in areas with less population and low risk of spread, while weekly sampling is reserved for areas with more population and mobility. In some cases, the analysis of sewage treatment plants located on the coast (in the summer months) and in the mountains (in the winter) is alternated, linked to seasonal population variations.

The samples, once taken, will be transported to the laboratories of the University of Barcelona and EURECAT for analysis. ICRA will monitor the quality and integrity of the process to standardize the analysis protocols and ensure the reliability of possible positive results . The results will be transferred to the Department of Health for analysis and evaluation, as a complementary tool to adopt measures and actions through the Procicat in the control of the pandemic.

The methodology established in the study is based on the scientific finding that the presence of the virus in the population is reflected in the presence of its genetic remains in the waste water. Although studies by the World Health Organization indicate that the virus is no longer active at the entrance to WWTPs, analysis methods make it possible to detect its presence and concentration, even before cases appear clinical In this way, the waste water becomes a very valuable support for the advanced detection of both the appearance of new outbreaks and the evolution and extent of the disease.

European database

The University of Barcelona, ​​through two research laboratories, and EURECAT (Centre Tecnològic de Catalunya), and the ICRA , will be in charge of the coordination and comparison of results at European and global level through the SEWERS4COVID initiative promoted by the European Commission. The aim is to create a European coordination space for epidemiological and health monitoring with contrasting data, with the aim of facilitating the coordination of measures and actions.

Monitoring commission

For the design of the project, it has been counted on the prior creation of an Expert and Coordination Committee to discuss and assess the suitability of launching this initiative, the possible problems and challenges and the appropriate choice of the procedures to follow. This Committee will remain active throughout the program to monitor its progress. The Committee of Experts and Coordination is made up of around thirty scientists who are experts in virology, epidemiology and genomics, professionals in waste water and sewage management laboratories, and environmental control. It is made up of technicians from the ACA, the Department of Health, the ICRA , the University of Barcelona, ​​EURECAT, the Center for Genomic Regulation, Agbar-Abemcia, Cetaqua, the Catalan Water Partnership (CWP ) and Barcelona Water Cycle (BCASA). It is expected that other actors and experts will be added as the program progresses.