WASHINGTON — In February 2020, environmental engineers Aaron Bivins and Kyle Bibby launched an informal collaborative with a few fellow researchers, hoping to share tips and strategies on monitoring wastewater for signs of the burgeoning COVID-19 pandemic. By April 2022, that group ballooned to more than 1,300 analysts and professionals worldwide, with a Slack account promoting new research and making introductions — all part of an effort to facilitate early information-sharing that didn’t exist at the federal level. “I’ve been on calls with teams all over the country, just kind of kicking ideas around and brainstorming and troubleshooting,” said Bivins, an assistant professor at Louisiana State University. The informal conversations underscore how national wastewater surveillance efforts are struggling with questions around sustained funding, geographical limitations and just what states should do with the data. Public health experts hope the technology will help monitor threats beyond COVID-19, like opioids and the flu, but the strategy requires resources and political buy-in.

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