Norwich leads the Vermont Initiative for Biological and Environmental Surveillance with wastewater testing

-A A +A

Norwich leads the Vermont Initiative for Biological and Environmental Surveillance with wastewater testing

Tue, 06/15/2021 - 10:29am -- tim

Vermont Business Magazine In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers at Norwich University, St Michael’s College and the University of Vermont partnered with municipal wastewater officials and state agency representatives to conduct wastewater surveillance for the SARS-CoV-2 virus and develop wastewater-based risk assessment tools for COVID-19, tools that can also be applied to other environmental health hazards that may emerge in Vermont.

The Vermont Initiative for Biological and Environmental Surveillance (VIBES) is a multidisciplinary group of scientists, engineers, faculty, staff, students, wastewater treatment professionals and state officials from Vermont institutions.

“It is our position that wastewater surveillance has been a critical tool in informing our understanding of COVID-19 prevalence within a community and it can guide future efforts to prevent transmission of this and any other new viruses that may emerge,” Norwich University Associate Provost for Research and Dana Professor of Biology Dr. Karen Hinkle said. “VIBES was organically formed in response to COVID-19 concerns and is a great example of how collaborative efforts helped create this team to be a resource. Now, given Vermont’s success at managing COVID-19, VIBES can help Vermont manage future emerging diseases and pathogens from environmental contaminants of concern.

“The VIBES consortium stands to serve as a resource to state officials and media outlets seeking subject matter experts in wastewater epidemiology and environmental health and engineering.”

Over the course of the 2020-2021 academic year during the COVID-19 pandemic, Norwich University students and faculty members developed a team and process for testing wastewater on campus for early detection of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Involving undergraduate students in a central role in this effort underscores Norwich University’s leadership in experiential education. Some testing of Northfield, Vermont’s wastewater was also conducted.

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), caused by the novel SARS-CoV-2 virus, continues to challenge public health officials globally. Researchers have shown strong correlation between wastewater SARS-CoV-2 genetic material (RNA copy number) and COVID-19 clinical cases suggesting that wastewater may be a detection source for fragments of the virus in a population before clinical testing indicates an outbreak.

Wastewater surveillance, the testing of wastewater influent for microorganisms and other contaminants, is being used worldwide to detect the SARS-CoV-2 virus and has significant potential as an early warning system of communicable pathogens. Wastewater surveillance can also complement clinical surveillance in areas with limited testing capacity or resources and may be a cost-effective way to track virus circulation and disease transmission within communities.

VIBES recommendations:

  • Develop standardized testing methodologies for wastewater surveillance in Vermont including detection and variant sequencing
  • Expand the statewide wastewater testing capacity
  • Identify key community hot spots through wastewater monitoring
  • Develop a comprehensive sampling plan with participation from municipal wastewater treatment plants
  • Contribute data and/or findings to the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC’s) National Wastewater Surveillance System
  • Engage social science research methods to help illuminate the behaviors that lead to increased virus transmission within communities, and identify communication strategies to help support preventive approaches
  • Set up a statewide surveillance program for SARS investigation and future targets
  • Identify/develop and implement COVID-19-specific disease transmission models including risk characterization and management

VIBES Members:

  • Marie Agan, Norwich faculty, chemistry, and UVM graduate student medical lab science
  • Appala Raju Badireddy, civil and environmental engineering, University of Vermont
  • Julie Dragon, Vermont Integrative Genomics, UVM
  • Robert Fischer, water quality superintendent, city of South Burlington
  • John Handley, researcher, analyst, Translational Global Infectious Diseases Research Center, Vermont Integrative Genomics
  • Karen Hinkle, associate provost for research and Dana Professor of Biology, Norwich University
  • James Jutras, water quality superintendent, city of Essex Junction
  • Tara Kulkarni, faculty, civil and environmental engineering, and director, Center for Global Resilience and Security, Norwich University
  • Mark Lubkowitz, faculty, biology, St. Michael’s College
  • Amy Polaczyk, program manager, Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation Wastewater Management Division, Wastewater Management Program
  • Bob Protivansky, chief operator WWTF, city of Rutland
  • Scott Tighe, Vermont Integrative Genomics, UVM
  • Isabelle Tomanelli, public health graduate student, University of Vermont
  • Christine Vatovec, Larner College of Medicine, Rubenstein School of Environment & Natural Resources, Gund Institute for Environment, UVM

VIBES Contact:

Dr. Karen Hinkle, associate provost for research and Dana Professor of Biology, Norwich University 802-485-2341,

Norwich University is a diversified academic institution that educates traditional-age students and adults in a Corps of Cadets and as civilians. Norwich offers a broad selection of traditional and distance-learning programs culminating in baccalaureate and graduate degrees. Norwich University was founded in 1819 by Captain Alden Partridge of the U.S. Army and is the oldest private military college in the United States. Norwich is one of our nation's six senior military colleges and the birthplace of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC).

Source: NORTHFIELD, Vt. – 6.15.2021