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Standards to Support an Enduring Capability in Wastewater Surveillance for Public Health: Where Are We?



Stephanie Servetas, Kirsten Parratt, NIchole Brinkman, Orin Shanks, Ted Smith, Philip Mattson, Nancy Lin


The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted a wide range of public health system challenges for infectious disease surveillance. The discovery that the SARS-CoV-2 virus was shed in feces and can be characterized using PCR-based testing of sewage samples offers new possibilities and challenges for wastewater surveillance (WWS). However, WWS standardization of practices is needed to provide actionable data for a public health response. A workshop was convened consisting of academic, federal government, and industry stakeholders. The objective was to review WWS sampling protocols, testing methods, analyses, and data interpretation approaches for WWS employed nationally and identify opportunities for standardizing practices, including the development of documentary standards or reference materials in the case of SARS-CoV-2 surveillance. Other WWS potential future threats to public health were also discussed. Several aspects of WWS were considered and each offers the opportunity for standards development. These areas included sampling strategies, analytical methods, and data reporting practices. Each of these areas converged on a common theme, the challenge of results comparability across facilities and jurisdictions. For sampling, the consensus solution was the development of documentary standards to guide appropriate sampling practices. In contrast, the predominant opportunity for analytical methods was reference material development, such as PCR-based standards and surrogate recovery controls. For data reporting practices, the need for establishing the minimal required metadata, a metadata vocabulary, and standardizing data units of measure including measurement threshold definitions was discussed. Beyond SARS-CoV-2 testing, there was general agreement that the WWS platform will continue to be a valuable tool for a wide range of public health threats and that future cross-sector engagements are needed to guide an enduring WWS capability.
Case Studies in Chemical and Environmental Engineering


Wastewater surveillance, COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2, Standards, Public Health


Servetas, S. , Parratt, K. , Brinkman, N. , Shanks, O. , Smith, T. , Mattson, P. and Lin, N. (2022), Standards to Support an Enduring Capability in Wastewater Surveillance for Public Health: Where Are We?, Case Studies in Chemical and Environmental Engineering, [online],, (Accessed April 16, 2024)
Created December 1, 2022, Updated March 2, 2023