TEMPE, AZ — Tempe is expanding its wastewater data program thanks to a $1M partnership with the state.
Wastewater-based epidemiology involves studying sewage to gather public health information.
“Just think about anything a doctor can measure in your urine, blood, or stool. A lot of these things we can measure in wastewater," explained Rolf Halden from the Center for Environmental Health Engineering at the Biodesign Institute at ASU.
The city teamed up with ASU's Biodesign Institute to test for opioid concentrations in 2018 and expanded to COVID testing in March 2020.
Deputy City Manager Rosa Inchausti oversees the wastewater program for Tempe.
"Using that data, with our city management team, our leadership, and mayor and city council in order to have better-informed decisions," said Inchausti.
For COVID, the city gathers data from seven wastewater collection areas. They've created a dashboard with results.
"We go to a pipe that maybe combines the wastewater from 200,000 people and we can take a look at whether the virus is present. If it is, we can go neighborhood by neighborhood and determine if there are particular hot spots."
The CDC gave the million-dollar grant to the Arizona Department of Health Services to partner with the City of Tempe. Tempe hopes to reduce the size of surveillance areas, allowing researchers to then identify areas that may benefit from additional resources---like educational tools or more emergency responders.
This program doesn't just apply to COVID.
“This will outlast the COVID-19 pandemic. It will hopefully also bear fruits for managing other health crises whether it’s polio, measles, or substance abuse," said Halden.
"In the future, it's looking at a tool to help inform other pathogens or anything that might be coming into a community that is a public health threat," said Inchausti.
The city will meet with ADHS, the CDC, and other cities doing similar work. The goal is to help create a national network of sewer surveillance.
Learn more about Tempe's wastewater program here.