Wastewater Surveillance Group

About us

Wastewater testing and monitoring is an emerging tool and investment for the COVID-19 pandemic and future health threats. Solely relying on PCR testing (nose or throat swabs to detect active infections) has limitations when laboratories and public health departments are overwhelmed. Wastewater testing provides additional testing capacity that: detects infection at all stages including asymptomatic cases; costs less than clinical testing; enables quick identification of outbreaks and waves; and is equitable in its ability to both include everyone and focus on vulnerable populations. CoVaRR-Net has established a Wastewater Surveillance Group because of its important use now and moving forward—wastewater testing is expected to be part of our pandemic preparedness toolkit. It will serve us as we navigate the COVID-19 pandemic and, in the future, it will enable detection of emerging infections, pandemics, endemic diseases, drugs, toxins, and pesticides and will serve as a key public health protection and early warning tool. However, as a relatively new tool, more research is needed to improve testing methods and to evaluate its surveillance role.

Why Test Wastewater?

Wastewater addresses several key surveillance challenges. Many people with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, are infectious before they have symptoms. People infected with SARS-CoV-2, including individuals without symptoms, shed the virus in their stool. By measuring viral levels within genetic material in the wastewater, public health officials can assess trends and variations in local SARS-CoV-2 infection without physically testing everyone. In some situations, measured wastewater trends can forecast COVID-19 symptomatic cases and hospitalizations in the population ahead of time. Therefore, monitoring the virus in wastewater constitutes an early monitoring system for virus spread and detection of new variants. As outlined by the National Collaborating Centre for Infectious Diseases, wastewater surveillance also anonymously covers a majority of the population. Because of its robust capabilities, wastewater monitoring is becoming a key part of our pandemic preparedness toolkit.

What does CoVaRR-Net’s Wastewater Surveillance Group do?

CoVaRR-Net’s Wastewater Surveillance Group (WWSG) brings together Canadian wastewater and environment investigators from universities across Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada/National Microbiology Laboratory, and provincial wastewater surveillance programs. Worldwide, CoVaRR-Net is one of the few networks to bring a broad multidisciplinary approach to environmental surveillance through collaboration across Network Pillars 5, 6, 7, and 8.

The WWSG uses a multidisciplinary, consensus approach to establish best practices for wastewater testing and surveillance. Wastewater Surveillance Group members actively collaborate with wastewater teams across Canada involving 200 researchers and public health staff at over 250 testing sites, including in the Canadian North where wastewater has become a key surveillance tool and a centre of innovation.

Helping to Prepare for Future Pandemics

CoVaRR-Net believes it is essential to plan for future pandemics, whether they will be caused by viruses or microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi.

That is why it is currently laying the foundations to eventually morph into a Pandemic Preparedness Network that will foster close ties, collaborations and relationships with public health laboratories and industry — because everyone’s contribution is critical during a pandemic.

Current Projects

1. The Public Health and Environmental Surveillance Open Data Model (PHES-ODM)

A dictionary and set of tools to support the collection and use of wastewater and environmental surveillance data, including data on the SARS-CoV-2 virus and variants. It provides a singular and unified way to record and store data, so that wastewater-based surveillance data and metadata can be compared and aggregated across different research teams and public health departments. Its first iteration, which consisted of 150+ variables categorized in 10 tables, was adopted by the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Parks, and Conservation.

Work on the second version is nearly complete—the European Union and other international partners are prepared to store data using this model once it’s done. Updates and changes to version 2 of the model were presented by Dr. Doug Manuel, Director of the Wastewater Surveillance Group, to the Public Health Agency of Canada and the European Union Wastewater Town Hall.

Watch the presentation to PHAC
Watch the presentation to the EUW Town Hall

Are you a researcher looking to get involved? Details of the model can be found on the Open Science Foundation page, and collaboration is always encouraged via the model’s GitHub page.

2. The Public Health and Environmental Surveillance Database (PHESD, pronounced “phased”)

Adata repository used to store Canadian and international wastewater and other environmental surveillance data using the Environmental Surveillance for Public Health Open Data Model (PHES-ODM). As uptake of the model grows, the database will hold more data that will be kept open and accessible to the public. Keeping data storage centralized in this way will shrink the delay between the measurement and analysis, and provide more data for better modeling, better collaboration, and better tools in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Curious about accessing the data, or looking to collaborate? The database and versioning can be found on Zenodo, with additional details and code visible through the GitHub page.

3. Data

While some Canadian public health departments have dashboards to share wastewater surveillance data with the public, data from the National Microbiology Lab and provincial health authorities is not yet publicly available. You can contact those organizations directly if you wish to request access to their data. The CoVaRR-Net Wastewater Surveillance Group is working to maximize data access and, currently, we are able to provide data from Ottawa and Quebec.

Are you looking to make your data available? The WWSG is always looking to expand the data available in the database. If you are passionate about open data and open science, email the team at phesd_odm@ohri.ca to figure out how we can add your data to this open repository.

4. International collaboration

The Open Data Model for wastewater, developed by CoVaRR-Net, has already been adopted by 27 countries. The goal is to make it the de facto international standard for sharing detailed wastewater and environmental data between researchers and surveillance programs. International collaborating bodies include the World Bank in Latin America and the Caribbean, the United States Center for Disease Control, the European Union Joint Research Centre, and the Wastewater Sphere, among others.

Watch a series of extended interview clips from CTV National News on February 23, 2022, featuring Wastewater Surveillance Group members Robert Delatolla, Ioannis Ragoussis and Doug Manuel.


Doug Manuel

Doug Manuel

Director, Wastewater Surveillance Group
Public Health and Health Systems, Modelling
Public Health, Health Systems and Social Policy Impacts Pillar Deputy

Senior Scientist, Ottawa Hospital Research Institute
Distinguished University Professor, University of Ottawa

Robert Delatolla

Member, Wastewater Surveillance Group
Viral Genomics & Sequencing Pillar Deputy

Professor, Department of Civil Engineering, University of Ottawa
Associate Director, Ottawa-Carleton Institute for Environmental Engineering

John P. Giesy

Member, Wastewater Surveillance Group

Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in the Division of Earth, Ocean and Atmosphere of the National Academy of Science of Canada
Former Canada Research Chair in Environmental Toxicology

Mary Jessome

CIEDAR’s representative, Wastewater Surveillance Group

Research Manager, CoVaRR-Net’s Indigenous Engagement, Development, and Research (CIEDAR) Pillar

Chrystal Landgraff

Member, Wastewater Surveillance Group

Research Scientist, Surveillance, Outbreak Detection and Response, Enteric Diseases Division, National Microbiology Laboratory (NML)
Adjunct Professor, Department of Food Sciences, University of Guelph

Chand Mangat

Member, Wastewater Surveillance Group

Head of the Wastewater Surveillance Unit in the One Health Division at the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC)

Nazeem Muhajarine

Nazeem Muhajarine

Member, Wastewater Surveillance Group
Public Health, Health Systems and Social Policy Impacts Pillar Co-Lead

Professor, University of Saskatchewan

Ioannis Ragoussis

Ioannis Ragoussis

Member, Wastewater Surveillance Group
Viral Genomics & Sequencing Pillar Lead

Professor, McGill University
Head of Genome Sciences, McGill Genome Center

Jesse Shapiro

Jesse Shapiro

Member, Wastewater Surveillance Group
Computational Biology and Modelling Pillar Co-Lead

Associate Professor, McGill University & Genome Center

Amina Stoddart

Member, Wastewater Surveillance Group

Assistant Professor, Department of Civil and Resource Engineering, Dalhousie University

Peter Vanrolleghem

Member, Wastewater Surveillance Group

Professor, Department of Civil and Water Engineering, Université Laval
Canada Research Chair on Water Quality Modelling