Wastewater being tested for COVID-19 in Maine’s largest city

Published: Jul. 30, 2020 at 7:07 AM EDT
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PORTLAND, Maine (WMTW) - Under a new partnership, the Portland Water District and Saint Joseph’s College will begin testing wastewater for inactive COVID-19 fragments.

They will test the wastewater using a newly developed method from IDEXX.

Samples from the Portland and Westbrook wastewater plans have been collected and will be delivered to Saint Joseph’s College for analysis.

The Portland Water District said it worked with the college, Maine Department of Environmental Protection and Maine Department of Health and Human Services to develop the three-month testing program.

The test results will be shared with the DEP and DHHS.

The partnership will lower costs of testing wastewater by as much as 90%, according to officials.

”Wastewater epidemiology can determine the presence of COVID, and changes in trends of the presence of COVID, up to six days before you will see it in the clinical setting,” said Scott Firmin.

If the program is successful it could provide a lower cost and more sensitive test for other Maine communities.

The Portland Water District said more and more communities are turning to wastewater-based epidemiology to screen for infection rates because the data can provide early detection of asymptomatic infections and testing capabilities for individuals can still be limited.

Studies have shown that similar wastewater testing programs can indicate infections about a week before clinical testing shows the infections, officials said.

Research shows that while fragments of the virus are detectable in human waste, it is unlikely that viable virus is present in the influent wastewater and that the wastewater treatment process has proven effective at eliminating other coronaviruses.

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