Scotland’s Pioneering Work Tracking #Covid Through Waste Water

Scotland is undertaking pioneering work in monitoring the progress of coronavirus- Covid-19 – through waste water. This tracking is being delivered by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, SEPA, and can detect levels of Covid-19 in local communities. The project is funded by the Scottish Government and is a vital component in our ability to limit the transmission of the virus in our communities.

SEPA’s laboratory near Eurocentral will continue analysing around 200 samples a week, collected by Scottish Water from waste water treatment works across the country. Current monitoring is focussed on supporting the community testing programme and represents over 70% of the Scottish population.

Scotland’s Covid19 Waste Monitoring Programme

The project is a collaborative one involving SEPA, Public Health Scotland (PHS), Scottish Water, CREW (Centre of expertise for Waters), the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute and Heriot Watt University.

The figures we see daily reflect those who have taken a test. As we know there are many people who may have Covid19 who either don’t know it or who don’t get tested. Sampling of the waste water adds to the data the testing and contact tracing is telling us about the incidence of the virus locally.

Samples from every health board area are tested for traces of non-infective Covid-19 ribonucleic acid (RNA) and shared with public health partners so they can see where rates are increasing or decreasing. In combination with community testing, this information is helping Scotland understand the prevalence and distribution of the virus, and gives a broader, unbiased, picture of the possible number of cases in a community.


Click on this link to find information: RNA Monitoring

The interactive map gives excellent information. Click on one of this highlighted areas to find the data for your area.

Here is the data recorded for Orkney which shows how Covid19 progressed through our communities once restrictions eased.

Data for Orkney (Kirkwall area )

Project Overview

In May SEPA began exploratory work to pinpoint fragments of coronavirus’ ribonucleic acid (RNA) in local waste water samples with the backing of Scottish Government and Public Health Scotland (PHS), alongside Scottish Water, CREW (Centre of expertise for Waters) and academic partners from the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute and Heriot Watt University.

Analysis on samples from across Scotland has identified traces in waste water from 12 health board areas. The results have been shared with PHS and areas with positive RNA findings are consistent with the areas known to have confirmed Covid-19 cases.

Testing is conducted on incoming waste water samples collected by Scottish Water and its operators at 106 public waste water treatment works across the country, covering all 14 NHS Scotland health board areas. Most locations are tested weekly, but this can be increased when local outbreaks are apparent.

Samples are representative of waste water from between 70-80 percent of the Scottish population and, in combination with community testing, are helping Scotland understand the prevalence and distribution of the virus.

Central to the delivery of this project has been our partnership working with Scottish Water and the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute. We’ve received support from across the public sector, agencies and institutions – including a donation of specialist kit from Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture.

We have been sharing data with Public Health Scotland, Scottish Government, the Office for National Statistics and the Joint Biosecurity Centre to assess and this is now being made publicly available via this tool.  We are continuing to work with Public Health Scotland and academic partners over how to make this information most useful to support the public health community in Scotland.

This tool will be updated with new data and analyses as they become available.

Reporter: Fiona Grahame

6 replies »

  1. This work has been going on for some time now, has (luckily!) been publicly available and the results are a really useful indicator which I have been using in my work. It is just important to keep in mind that sampling only covers a population of under 8,000 in one area of Orkney and in the isles there are septic tanks or sewage goes into the sea where testing is not possible or practical.
    Taking some limitations into account when interpretating data, waste water monitoring is really a very good tool. Keep up the good work, SEPA!

Leave a Reply