Scotland’s Covid-19 waste water monitoring programme extended until March 2022

  22 March 2021
Scotland’s pioneering project to monitor Covid-19 by measuring its genetic footprint in waste water will continue for another year after an additional £2.3 million of funding announced by the Scottish Government this week.

The extension until March 2022 means that the Scottish Environment Protection Agency’s laboratory near Eurocentral will continue analysing around 200 samples a week, collected by Scottish Water from waste water treatment works across the country. Current monitoring is focussed on supporting the community testing programme and represents over 70% of the Scottish population.

Samples from every health board area are tested for traces of non-infective Covid-19 ribonucleic acid (RNA) and shared with public health partners so they can see where rates are increasing or decreasing. In combination with community testing, this information is helping Scotland understand the prevalence and distribution of the virus, and gives a broader, unbiased, picture of the possible number of cases in a community.

SEPA was among the first European agencies to begin work, with the help of key partners, to pinpoint fragments of coronavirus’ RNA in local waste water samples in May 2020.

Data for all samples analysed is available at https://informatics.sepa.org.uk/RNAmonitoring/

Terry A’Hearn, SEPA Chief Executive, said:

“The additional funding announced by Scottish Government will play a significant role in Scotland’s recovery from Covid-19. We’re proud that our science expertise is helping public health partners make key decisions to support community testing and we’ll continue to work closely with health specialists and academic partners.

“With the backing of Scottish Government and Public Health Scotland, alongside Scottish Water, we’re delivering a service that enables us to have a richer picture of the prevalence of the virus - which will be key in helping to inform Scotland’s route out of lockdown.”

George Ponton, Head of Research and Innovation at Scottish Water, said:

“We welcome the new funding from Scottish Government to enable the continuation of the great collaborative efforts of Scottish Water, SEPA and the Health Boards in using waste water monitoring as a means to track Covid.

“The expansion of the sampling programme into the sewer networks, as well as the treatment works, means that we are increasing the coverage and helping health professionals to target their testing resources into areas of concern. It’s great for all involved in the programme to feel part of the combined efforts to suppress the virus.”

ENDS

Notes

  • SEPA is delivering the monitoring programme with the backing of Scottish Government and Public Health Scotland, alongside Scottish Water, CREW (Centre of Expertise for Waters) and academic partners from the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute and Heriot Watt University.

  • In January 2021 an extra £1.1 million in additional funding from Scottish Government was provide to SEPA and Scottish water to expand their monitoring programme to 200 samples per week. The extra funding enabled SEPA to expanded capacity and procure specialist laboratory equipment, allowing more samples to be processed.