2021 Excellence in Environmental Engineering and Science™ Awards Competition Winner
Grand Prize - University Research
COVIDPoop19: Global COVID-19 Wastewater Monitoring Dashboard
Entrant: Colleen C. Naughton, Ph.D.
Person in Charge: Colleen C. Naughton, Ph.D.
Location: University of California Merced
Media Contact: Colleen C. Naughton, Ph.D.
Dr. Colleen C. Naughton (she/her/hers) is an Assistant Professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of California Merced since 2019. She leads the FEWS-US lab (Food-Energy-Water Systems for the UnderServed). She is the principal investigator behind @COVIDPoops19 twitter account and global dashboard of wastewater monitoring sites for SARS-CoV-2.
Dr. Naughton manages one Environmental Systems Graduate Student, Ana Grace Alvarado, and two undergraduate Environmental Engineering students, Fernando Adali Roman, Jr. and Arianna Q. Tariqi to create and maintain the project.
Dr. Naughton received a PhD in Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of South Florida in 2016 and her B.S. in Civil Engineering with Environmental concentration from Purdue University in 2008 and passed the F.E. exam. She served in the United States Peace Corps as a Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Engineer in Mali, West Africa from 2009-2012. Dr. Naughton was an American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science and Technology Policy Fellow at the Millennium Challenge Corporation from 2017- 2018. Her lab at UC Merced co-designs sustainable and culturally sensitive Food- Energy-Water Systems for the UnderServed and all of us nationally and globally using Geographic Information Systems, Life Cycle Assessment, integration of anthropology and engineering, and effective science policy.
Environmental Engineers and Scientists have used wastewater to monitor for community spread of pathogens and other health indicators for decades. With the advent of the novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, many engineers and scientists quickly adapted their methods to detect the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 in wastewater. The field of Wastewater Based Epidemiology (WBE) rapidly increased from historical levels. However, there was no global dashboard to track wastewater monitoring efforts to better coordinate and inform the public like there are for individual clinical cases. University of California (UC) Merced Assistant Professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering, Dr. Colleen Naughton, and her student team used an integrative approach to create a global dashboard for wastewater monitoring of SARS- CoV-2 and launched it in September 2020. The COVIDPoops19 dashboard is of high quality, original, and innovative to address a complex problem that contributes to social and economic advancement.
Wastewater Based Epidemiology (WBE) requires an integrated understanding of environmental engineering (wastewater treatment), chemistry, biology, and public health. Creating the COVIDPoops19 dashboard and twitter account required an understanding of WBE methods and integration of data science and Geographic Information Systems in environmental engineering. Monitoring wastewater for SARS-CoV-2 has minimal impact to other environmental sectors such as air though does require disposal of laboratory consumables.
The COVIDPoops19 dashboard is of high quality and follows data visualization guidance for simplicity and unified color scheme for usability. The dashboard is regularly updated at least weekly. Points are separated into available data/dashboards, universities/institutions, countries, and site points. So far the dashboard has tracked wastewater monitoring in 53 countries, 248 universities, and 2,082 sites with links to 75 dashboards/data. The dashboard has had over 31,000 views not including embedded views on other websites. COVIDPoops19 has been featured in local, state, national, and international news outlets (Business Insider, MIT Technology Review, La Liberte, Newsy, Merced radio, etc.).
Originality and Innovation
The COVIDPoops19 dashboard was the original global dashboard of wastewater monitoring for SARS-CoV-2 and global wastewater monitoring of a pathogen overall. The dashboard team uses innovative methods to create the dashboard by harnessing the power of social media through daily key-word searches in addition to traditional literature review and scientific presentation attendance.
Twitter searches for six different key word combinations are performed daily to track the latest research, news, and monitoring efforts worldwide. The @COVIDPoops19 twitter account was launched in May 2020 and has tweeted or retweeted 12,3000 SARS-CoV-2 and wastewater tweets and acquired 2,562 followers one year later. The twitter account engages with and has a wide spectrum of followers including engineers, scientists, researchers, municipalities, public health departments, government officials, journalists, and the general public.
The COVID-19 pandemic is extremely complex and the greatest public health crisis the world has faced in over a century. Ending the pandemic requires efforts from all sectors of society particularly environmental engineers and scientists. Wastewater surveillance of SARS- CoV-2 is a powerful tool to monitor and mitigate community spread and can even serve as an early warning system. One sample can include data from hundreds to millions of people that excreted to the sewer system. Both asymptomatic and symptomatic people shed the virus in their stool. COVID-19 Wastewater data can inform where to target public health messages, actions, and resources (e.g., individual testing) for areas with increasing concentrations or positive results.
Wastewater data and monitoring is complex given the complex matrix of wastewater (e.g., flow variability, storm and industrial flows, population served, etc.) and testing methods (e.g., sludge vs. liquids, different kits, grab vs. composite samples, genes tested, etc.) used in various locations (treatment plants, building scale, sewershed, environmental waters, etc.). Tracking efforts for the dashboard has been very complex given the amount of researchers, countries, institutions, governments, and organizations involved in multiple languages. The COVIDPoops19 dashboard team has attended and presented at webinars upwards of ten per week at all hours of the day to stay informed of monitoring efforts globally. The COVIDPoops19 team includes English, French, and Spanish speakers. Not all those monitoring wastewater for SARS-CoV-2 are easily found in key word searches so extra effort is needed to engage with the global research community including direct messages, e-mails, phone and conference calls, and presentations. Many may view the COVIDPoops19 dashboard as just points on a map, but finding and verifying the points is complex and takes great effort, knowledge, and dedication from the professor and students involved.
Contributes to social and economic advancement
Wastewater monitoring for SARS-CoV-2 contributes to social and economic advancement since it helps us anticipate and mitigate COVID- 19 outbreaks and efficiently allocate resources to areas in need that yield positive tests and/or increasing concentrations in their wastewater. The sooner the world can return to normal, the more businesses can open and generate revenue and hire more people. Preventing outbreaks saves lives and reduces health care costs. Wastewater monitoring is cheaper than individual testing the same population though should not replace individual testing but help focus testing efforts.
The COVIDPoops19 dashboard contributes to global COVID-19 reduction efforts and social and economic advancement by (1) helping researchers and municipalities better coordinate and learn from each other (e.g. know where others are testing in their area and how they display their data), (2) informing the public of where wastewater testing is occurring near them and find the data to inform their individual decisions (e.g. take more precautions if they see increasing concentrations in the wastewater), (3) promoting greater wastewater testing worldwide, and (4) being used as an example platform for future global pathogen monitoring efforts to prevent future pandemics and disease. The COVIDPoops19 team and dashboard is now helping to develop a global data center and use cases for wastewater and SARS-CoV-2 funded through the Gates Foundation.