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Tapping into the Hidden Superpowers of Wastewater

Jul 12, 2021

ACUA's Water Testing Laboratory recently joined a national effort to test and analyze wastewater for the occurrence of COVID-19. 

The program was developed by Biobot Analytics, a spin-off of a MIT Research Project based in Cambridge, MA. Biobot was selected by the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services to establish a national wastewater surveillance program, which will collect samples from wastewater treatment facilities across the country. ACUA is currently participating in this 10-week program.

A community’s exposure to COVID-19 can be detected in its wastewater because people shed the virus when they go to the bathroom. While it has not been typically tapped as a resource for disease prevalence, the study of wastewater has gained interest over the past year after it was proven useful in detecting outbreaks at specific locations, such as dormitories and nursing homes. 

The proponents of this study believe it will also be beneficial in monitoring a community’s “true” exposure since it would detect the virus among those who have not been tested or may be asymptomatic. It is also expected to be helpful in monitoring the development of variants.

“In addition to being able to provide data to monitor and map relative concentrations of COVID-19 by area and region, the ability to identify existing and new variants through genomic sequencing will be a valuable tool,” said ACUA Lab Director Mike Gille. “The information can be used to track the distribution and movement of variants through the country. It can also potentially assist vaccine manufacturers as they tailor subsequent batches of vaccine to deal with existing, and new variants.”

ACUA lab employees gather weekly samples from incoming wastewater as it enters our wastewater treatment facility in Atlantic City. Samples are then sent to Biobot to be tested as part of the 10-week program.


While the current program is analyzing the prevalence of COVID, the goal of Biobot is to ultimately expand the practice of using wastewater as a critical tool for preventing the spread of disease and informing public health decisions.


Currently, ACUA’s laboratory team analyzes wastewater samples throughout the day to ensure our treatment plant is removing contaminants to necessary standards before it is released to the ocean. While it does not regularly test for additional contaminants, our lab is excited to be a part of these developing studies.

In addition to wastewater testing, ACUA’s laboratory also provides all bacteriological testing of ocean water at Atlantic County beaches to ensure the safety of recreational swimming as well as various Atlantic County schools and municipal systems to ensure the safety of drinking water.