As the world looks for ways to manage the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers and epidemiologists are turning to the sewers for answers. With the help of smart technologies, our shared waste could hold the key to community health both now and in the future.

Field engineers from Kando, a wastewater intelligence firm, collect a sewage sample from one of the company’s automated smart samplers

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During a cholera outbreak in 1854, John Snow plotted cases on a map of London, tracing the cause of infection to a sewage-contaminated water pump and proving two things: 1) Cholera is a waterborne disease, and 2) by understanding the networks communities share, we can better understand public health.

Modern epidemiology was born.

Today, researchers are turning to the sewers to track the spread of COVID-19 infections, taking samples of raw sewage and testing it for virus RNA shed by those infected.

By monitoring the concentration of viral traces in wastewater, public health officials are able to…

It’s taken 30 years, but US pollution prevention law is finally getting the tech support it’s always needed. As smart technology trickles into the sewers, data-driven insights are handing utilities and treatment facilities a clear view of both the challenges they face and the solutions they need. I spoke to Rick Reibstein, lecturer in Environmental Law and Policy at Boston University, and member of the board of the National Pollution Prevention Roundtable, to get to the bottom of what source detection can achieve for US pollution reduction.

‘Source reduction’ — finding sources of pollution and stopping harmful contaminants from being released in the first place — is key to improving environmental and public health, and reducing utility costs.

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Since passing in 1990, the US Pollution Prevention Act has provided a framework for pollution reduction through source control. The idea behind the Act is simple: if you deal with the source of pollution, you deal with the pollution itself.

It was a step change in national pollution policy, with emphasis previously having centred upon treatment and disposal. 30 years on, however, the federal approach has not seen the success that similar programmes on a state level would have lead you to expect.

The message from the states is clear, however. If we really pay attention to opportunities to prevent…

Last month, hackers gained control of a Florida water treatment plant in an attempt to poison the water supply and threaten the health of thousands of Floridians. That attack was stopped before the intended damage could be done, but what can we learn from the event and how can we stop incidents like it from happening again?

Want to know how you can improve your digital hygiene? Scroll down for four easy steps to improve digital security for you and your organisation

On 5th February, 2021, a cyber attacker was able to raise the levels of sodium hydroxide used to clean water at a treatment plant in Florida by a potentially lethal 11,000%. The hack was noticed and stopped by a vigilant plant operator before any real damage could be done, but the message was clear:

The infrastructure we rely on for water and other basic services is potentially vulnerable to digital attacks. …

As England and Wales’ water regulators push ever more ambitious performance targets in the wake of high-profile failures, what does the most recent regulation shift mean for utilities and technology providers in one of Europe’s most consolidated water markets?

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Despite reporting consistent downward trends in water pollution in recent years — an achievement made all the more remarkable when considering increases in population and productivity have coincided with significant advances in monitoring techniques — England and Wales’ water utilities are targeting still greater improvement.

Price regulator Ofwat’s 2019 price review and the start of…

Max Howells

A freelance content and projects consultant, specialising in the water and environmental technologies sectors.

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