The city of Des Moines wastewater treatment plant is part of a national program that tests wastewater for COVID-19 and its variants.
Plant director Scott Hutchens says the program is a partnership with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the CDC, and the National Institutes of Health. “We’ll take samples and send them to them two to three times a week. We take our influent wastewater and it gets tested for the presence of COVID-19 and any variants that might be in that,” he explains.
Hutchens says the plant treats waste from 17 Des Moines metro communities and some 500,000 people. “You know when you shower, when you go to the bathroom and flush your toilet — that’s coming through the sewer system and pipelines and interceptor sewers here to the treatment plant,” Hutchens says.
The liquid is pulled out of the sewage and treated by the plant before being released into the river. The samples will test the water before the treatment. “They can do an analysis to determine how rampant COVID-19 is in the community — or how well the vaccination process is going,” according to Hutchens.
The program is paid for by the federal government and includes hundreds of wastewater treatment plants across the country.