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“Wastewater as an Indicator of the Physical and Mental Health of PA Communities during the COVID-19 Pandemic”

Research PI

Preisendanz, Heather Elise

Associate Professor

Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering

Penn State University

Phone: 814-863-1817


Analyzing samples from at least three different wastewater treatment plants in central and south-central Pennsylvania. Currently seeking partner treatment plants, in discussions with Harrisburg (Dauphin County), Derry Township (Dauphin County), and Mount Joy Borough (Lancaster County). Already working with Mercer County correctional facility. The effort is in the third week. Results are being returned back to the facility within 2-3 days which is a fast turn-around.

Prefers partners who will act on the data – such as giving advanced notice of positive cases or other pertinent information to decision-makers, which may affect decisions to close or keep open public facilities (schools, etc), and/or entities that can provide direct resources such as mental health assistance for communities to get support.

This grant provides wastewater analysis of SARS-CoV-2 and a suite of pharmaceuticals associated with physical and mental health concerns associated with the pandemic, including:

 • Acetaminophen and ibuprofen (fever reducers)

• Guaifenesin and dextromethorphan (expectorants, cough suppressants)

• Naproxen (pain medication)

• Ampicillin, ofloxacin, trimethoprim, sulfamethoxazole (antibiotics)

• Hydroxychloroquine (malaria drug)

• Remdesivir (experimental antiviral drug)

• Buspirone, citalopram, clomipramine, propranolol (anti-anxiety medications)

• Alprazolam (Xanax) and diazepam (Valium), both of which have been reported to be on the rise since the pandemic started

 Sampling kits are sent to treatment plants and contain the following:

  1. 1 L amber glass bottle (for wastewater influent sample) [ideally, we would use the ones with the safety coated liner on the outside to reduce breakage – more have been ordered but they are on back order and so aren’t going to be here for a bit still]
  2. Re-usable ice packs
  3. Sample labels and marker
  4. Paper chain of custody
  5. Pre-paid overnight shipping label (UPS, with samples delivered to Matt Jones; virologist)
  6. Styrofoam cooler
  7. Enough bubble wrap to keep the sample safe during transportation

The sample should be collected from the raw influent of the facility as a 24-hr composite. Virus results are back within 2 days of receipt, and pharmaceutical data within about a week.

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