Catching the Wave! Wastewater-Based Epidemiology as a Tool for Supporting Community Surveillance of SARS-Cov-2 in Ontario


The COVID-19 pandemic has touched almost every corner of the globe and has caused serious health impacts within our communities. It was recognized early in the “first wave” of infections that there was the potential to monitor SARS-CoV-2 viral fragments in wastewater as an alternate way to do community surveillance. This approach has the advantage that it is independent of how testing is done for individuals over time (i.e. changing methods, access, rules), integrates both symptomatic and asymptomatic people and included everyone within the sewershed (e.g. unbiased). It therefore represents an additional tool (another leg on the “stool”) for supporting public health interventions and management. Regular sampling of influent (wastewater) was initiated at several wastewater sites in Peel and York Region (Greater Toronto Area), Canada, in July 2020. SARS-CoV-2 viral fragments (N1, N2) have shown a clear increase over time with the onset of the “second wave” of infections that parallel closely the reported cases in the communities. We have continued to monitor changes in the viral signal as various control measures have been implemented, including the current lockdown. Some of the opportunities, advantages and challenges for detection of SARS-CoV-2 in wastewaters will be highlighted.

The Presenters:

Mark Servos
Prof. Mark R. Servos is currently the Canada Research Chair in Water Quality Protection in the Department of Biology, University of Waterloo, where his research and teaching program is related to the science underlying risk assessment and management of emerging threats to water resources. Prof. Servos worked as a research scientist with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (Great Lakes Laboratory for Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, 1988-1996) and Project Chief with Environment Canada (National Water Research Institute) (1996-2003) before he joined the University of Waterloo as a Professor of Biology in 2003. He served as Scientific Director of the Canadian Water Network, a national Network of Centres of Excellence, focused on innovation in the water sector until 2011. He plays an active role in international scientific societies, serving as President of both the International Association of Great Lakes Research and the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC). He is a Fellow of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC) and was recently recognized with Stephen J. Klaine Environmental Education Award for his commitment to innovative interdisciplinary teaching.

Mark is an internationally recognized researcher in the area of environmental assessment and risk of emerging contaminants of concern, including endocrine disruptors, pharmaceuticals and personal care products. He has led or participated in many national and international workshops, projects, committees and panels that address the risks and management of these contaminants in the environment and water systems. He recently served as a Synthesis Visitor at the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (Eawag) where he worked on a review of microcontaminant risks. Dr. Servos and his group have been leaders in conducting detailed studies looking at the fate, effects and remediation of emerging contaminants. His research is also looking at innovative technologies to remove these contaminants for water and remedial action to minimize their risks.

Recently with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic his lab has shifted their expertise to the challenge of wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) using detection of SARS-CoV-2 in wastewaters to inform and support public health agencies in Canada.

Phil Dennis
Phil is a Principal Molecular Biologist with more than 20 years of experience focused environmental microbiology, molecular genetic testing, enhanced bioremediation and technology commercialization. He currently directs the molecular testing services, next generation sequencing and is the innovation lead for SiREM’s research and development program. He has also played a leading role in developing relationships with many universities and serves on the Board for University of Waterloo Center for Microbial Research.