Health minister opens new wastewater monitoring lab at Bangor University
Welsh Government Minister for Health and Social Services visited Bangor University to officially open the new wastewater monitoring research facility.
The state of the art facility enables scientists to test water for the detection and surveillance of human pathogenic viruses and AMR in freshwater, estuarine and coastal environments and track their prevalence in the community through wastewater sampling.
Once samples are collected and sent to the lab, a team of over 20 researchers are able to prepare the samples for testing, analyse them and record data which then provides information important in terms of protecting of human health.
Scientists from Bangor University had been undertaking research into the presence of viruses in wastewater for some time when the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in 2020, and the Welsh Government awarded funding to a consortium led by Bangor University, working with Cardiff University, Public Health Wales and Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water.
Since 2023, the Welsh Government led Wales wastewater monitoring programme has been extended to include hospitals and other key sites to the monitoring carried out at waste treatment plants and now partners in the programme also include Arup and the London Data Company.
As well as testing for for SARS-CoV-2 and other variants, the team have now also established methods for testing for other viruses of interest, including Polio, norovirus and other stomach bugs, influenza and the respiratory virus RSV and antimicrobial resistance.
Professor Davey Jones of Bangor University, who leads the waste water programme said,
During the pandemic and beyond, the team has sampled everything from waste treatment plants to airports, the ferry between Ireland and Holyhead, prisons, hospitals and university residences. All these showed that wastewater testing technology works. It’s a new way of thinking, and gives us that community surveillance picture. We’re not testing individuals, and because it reaches all sectors of society we’re not missing anybody out, or holding any individual responsible for the results we find.
The next step is how we continue to use it for public good. We’re continuing to test for COVID-19 and other coronviruses, for influenza, RSV, enteric infections such as norovirus, polio, and our collaborators at Cardiff University are undertaking pioneering research on antimicrobial resistance (AMR).
“One of the challenges is creating new dashboards so that the data can be used to its full potential. I’m confident that our work supports Wales’ groundbreaking Wellbeing of Future Generations Act, and that the data can be used for national indicators, with the potential for creating new ones using this data in areas such as health and nutrition, AMR, population wellbeing and social inequality. We now have the national infrastructure provided by Welsh Government – let’s use it to its full capacity.