Regional District of Nanaimo wastewater services hopes the University of Victoria and Pani Energy can monitor wastewater for COVID-19. (News Bulletin file)

Regional District of Nanaimo wastewater services hopes the University of Victoria and Pani Energy can monitor wastewater for COVID-19. (News Bulletin file)

RDN hopes to participate in project to monitor for COVID-19 in wastewater

University of Victoria and Pani Energy project testing samples in capital region first

The Regional District of Nanaimo hopes to piggyback on a project that will scan poop for potential COVID-19.

In July, it was announced that University of Victoria engineering researchers and Pani Energy were developing a sewage monitoring system that examines wastewater samples, with the broad number of pathogens detectable in wastewater offering public health the ability to monitor for future outbreaks.

UVic/Pani Energy were granted money from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. According to an RDN staff report, the company and university will first conduct a pilot with Capital Regional District samples before deciding on whether to take on samples from the RDN’s Greater Nanaimo and French Creek pollution control centres.

“They won’t be testing for the virus, but they’ll be testing for the genetic material, the RNA (ribonucleic acid) of the virus,” said Sean De Pol, RDN director of water and wastewater services. “They’ll be sampling it from that perspective and that will allow them to quantify what is happening within the community.”

De Pol said the RDN has an agreement with the university to conduct a similar program as with the CRD, allowing them to analyze samples from RDN facilities, however he cautions it’s not a done deal.

“Nothing has been scheduled to date; they will be following up with us mid-November to [tell us] how they’ll run it, so we’re working through logistics … it’s in their court. It’s their program,” said De Pol.

Don Bonner, RDN director and committee chairperson, said it is something that other cities across North America are doing.

“I think ideally, if it works well, it’ll be a way for the city to figure out if there’s any hot spots about to happen, because generally we see the RNA prior to outbreaks actually happening, whether or not we realize that there’s an area where there’s a whole bunch of people who are going to get sick very soon,” said Bonner. “I know they’ve used this on similar types of outbreaks of various diseases around the world on monitoring wastewater.”

De Pol said there would be no expense or cost to the RDN.

The university did not respond to a request for comment.

RELATED: UVic to study COVID outbreaks from poop

RELATED: B.C. begins testing sewage for COVID clues

– files from Aaron Guillen, Goldstream Gazette

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