COVID-19 wastewater surveillance


External CollaboratorsErie County (NY) Department of Environment and Planning, New York State Department of Health, Syracuse University, Ceres Nanosciences

Project Description

A student distributes wastewater from a needle into a test tube while a student observes behind the first student. Both students are dressed in lab coats, safety goggles, gloves and masks.

The SARS-CoV-2 wastewater surveillance efforts with UB's Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering, led by assistant professors Ian Bradley and Yinyin Ye, have evolved throughout the pandemic. 

In Fall 2020, Bradley, Ye, and several students began working with officials in Erie County, NY to examine the prevalence of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in wastewater. Officials gathered samples from about a dozen sites throughout the county, including several at UB. The samples were taken to Bradley's lab where he and students used specialized equipment to detect the virus. This information was used to develop a COVID-19 wastewater dashboard, which the public could use to track prevalence of the virus in their own region. 

A student, dressed in full lab gear (goggles, coat, mask and gloves) using touch screen with the wastewater sample in a small plastic box in the larger side of the device.

Bradley and Ye expanded these surveillance efforts to all of Western New York thanks to two partnerships near the end of 2021 - one led by the New York State Department of Health (NYS DOH) and Syracuse University, and the other by Virginia-based Ceres Nanosciences. Thanks to these partnerships, researchers are able to analyze more samples at a higher rate. Working with Ceres Nanosciences also allows Bradley and Ye to train students in wastewater-based epidemiology and clinical lab methods associated with polymerase chain reaction (PCR) a ubiquitous tool for amplifying data. 

The NYS DOH and Syracuse University project allows Bradley, Ye and their team to continue surveillance efforts in Erie County, and expand to Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua and Niagara counties, as part of a state network.

“The goal of a state network is to monitor and test wastewater for 90% of the population in New York state. Between every county in the state, there are about 200 wastewater treatment plants that cover this portion of the population,” Bradley says. “In Erie County, we are collecting samples from seven plants, and once we expand to the five Western New York counties, we will be analyzing samples from 12 plants, and hope to expand in the future.”