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Utilities Kingston participating in project to track COVID-19 in wastewater

Photo by Lucas Mulder.

Utilities Kingston is taking part in a world-wide research project to help determine if the novel coronavirus can be found and transmitted through sewage and water.

After early research suggested that COVID-19 might be transmitted through water and could help to determine a second-wave of cases, the Canadian Coalition on Wastewater-Related COVID-19 Research was created. 

The Canadian Coalition on Wastewater-Related COVID-19 Research is a national collaboration of municipalities, researchers, public health officials, and governments with the shared goal of helping Canada to find the best response for public safety measures. Scientists at Queen’s University are using Kingston’s sewage samples to do research.

Jim Keech, the President and Chief Executive Officer of Utilities Kingston says that Utilities Kingston is happy to help with the research process.

“At Utilities Kingston, our primary focus has been just making sure that we’ve got the resources and people available here to provide the basic services and community needs,” he said. According to Keech, this also involves helping the scientific community.

“We are helping the scientific community look at being able to track the virus through sampling sewage,” he said. “They have been actually able to detect the virus [in places] before the actual outbreak took place there.”

To do this, Utilities Kingston has a mechanism that puts a sampling bottle through the fluid before it hits the water treatment plant. They then take the sample to the University where it is analyzed in the labs to see if anything comes up. Right now, they are sending in samples weekly, and then after an analysis period, they will be able to determine if the virus is present in the water.

To do this, researchers break down the waste to determine if part of the RNA (part of the DNA of the virus) is present in the waste.

As the province of Ontario struggles to keep up the quota of testing needed to determine if the virus is still spreading in communities, finding other methods of testing are crucial in order to track the spread, and this method has been proven to work. Although the results are not yet published in a peer reviewed journal, both the Netherlands and France were able to use this method to track the spread of the virus.

As Kingston’s cases dwindle, and because the research was just kicked off, it is yet to be determined if the scientists have found anything significant in Kingston’s sewage.

Kingstonist has reached out to some of the scientists involved in this project and will provide further coverage as more information becomes available.


Jemma Dooreleyers is a Kingstonian who is about to enter her fourth year at Ryerson School of Journalism. She has been a contributor for the Kingstonist in the past and is excited to be a full-time intern. She has written for a number of student publications such as the Ryersonian, Kaleidoscope, the Eyeopener, Her Campus and the White Wall Review. This year, she was the Arts Editor for Ryerson Folio, a general interest magazine. She is currently back in Kingston for the time being, social distancing with her mom, a dog, and two cats.

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