City DPW Joins UNH/NH DHHS Covid-19 Wastewater Surveillance Program

June 30, 2022

In September 2020, the CDC launched the National Wastewater Surveillance System (NWSS) to coordinate and build the nation’s capacity to track the presence of the virus that causes COVID-19, in wastewater samples collected across the country. Sampling efforts around the country have determined that by measuring COVID-19 in wastewater on a routine basis, allows predictive trends to be observed. Any increases or decreases in COVID-19 in the samples are 'leading indicators' of increases or decreases in active cases of COVID-19 in the population being studied.

The CDC expanded the program nationally in February and is working with health departments around the country, including the NH Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to track COVID-19 virus levels in wastewater so communities can act quickly to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

NH DHHS launched a program in May 2022 to regularly test wastewater levels at around two dozen of the 78 municipal wastewater treatment plants in New Hampshire. Portsmouth is one of those municipalities.

Both of the City’s Wastewater Treatment Facilities (WWTF) -- Peirce Island and Pease -- are participating in the NH DHHS project. Initially a lab at the University of New Hampshire (UNH) is processing the samples and NH DHHS expects to process samples in its own labs, eventually. UNH has been testing its own samples independently since the summer of 2020. Their researchers have also shared their method with long-term care facilities and other wastewater treatment facilities in the state.

The Peirce Island WWTF sent its first sample for testing on June 7, 2022 and the Pease WWTF started sampling the week of June 13, 2022. Each facility will be sending out weekly samples until the project ends.

While it is not possible to determine trends until several weeks of reports are collected, the first Peirce Island and Pease WWTF test results are posted on the City website and future test reports will also be posted to this page.