UARK using wastewater to track COVID-19


FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — On June 10, Arkansas approved $40,000 in funding for the University of Arkansas to begin a project that uses wastewater to track COVID-19.

The money comes from the CARES Act, or Coronavirus aid, relief and economic security. It’s designed to help the economy bounce back from the pandemic.

Scott Hardin with the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration said Arkansas received $1.25 billion from the CARES Act. He said innovative projects like this are as important as providing people with PPE.

“When you look at COVID-19 and the way it’s being addressed throughout the state, whether it’s spending it on masks or a study like this at the U of A, it certainly is an important piece of the overall puzzle.” Hardin said.

University research faculty say the virus can be tracked. “The virus can be excreted through feces, and once that happens, it will end up in the wastewater,” Wen Zhang, and Associate Professor of Civil Engineering said.

She said this could limit the need for thousands of tests, due to the number of those infected potentially being seen from wastewater samples. Zhang said determining how far the virus has spread is critical.

“One of the biggest challenges with this pandemic is we don’t really know how much people are really effected. So how can we capture that part of the population, I think that’s a key part in ending this pandemic.” Zhang said.

Jamie Hestkin, a Chemical Engineer at the university has also developed a long-lasting disinfectant spray that temporarily colors surfaces green.

“The idea was could we spray it with something that could keep it clean for a longer period of time, where people could see it and be like “Hey that’s clean I feel more comfortable,'” Hestkin said.

A prototype has been created and a patent is underway. Hestekin said it’s times like these when science is about more than learning.

“As a scientist you always want to think you’re helping somebody, so it’s cool for us to see that we are working on things that could help people,” he said.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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