How to Pandemic Proof Your City

June 20, 2023

Did you ever play that game when you were little, the one where they asked you: what do these five things have in common? Let’s play.

Polio. COVID. Fentanyl. Chlamydia. Asbestos.

You scratch your head. They’re not all diseases. They’re not all mind-altering chemicals. But they’re all problematic, even in small doses. 

And then, wait a minute, you’ve got it. 

They’re all things that impact our health, start slow but then grow rapidly, things that can overtake a city. 

And the list of threats to public health doesn’t stop there. We can add mpox, RSV, influenza, norovirus, gonorrhea, cortisol, and toxic mold to the list. Diseases that move silently from person to person, through the air, through surfaces, through food. Through touching. Toxins, picked up from the environment. Or new illicit drugs, entering the drug supply and putting communities at risk.

Most often, we don’t see the damage till it’s too late. By the time people recognize their symptoms, go to a doctor, figure out what they’ve got, they’ve shared a meal, sneezed in the subway and kissed a stranger, and a thousand more now have what they had. By the time public officials pinpoint a societal or environmental crisis, it’s impacted a great many of a city’s most vulnerable.

So how do you pandemic proof your city?

How do we help you do it quickly, act fast enough to save lives, and catch people before they fall?

Your poop and pee is the answer. Plus any vomit, snot and bodily fluids. Your waste, our treasure.

Yup, the things you flush away and put behind you every morning while you turn your mind to more important matters. Feces and urine, which carry the biosignature of viruses, bacteria, chemicals, tell their own story of the threats in our midst. Yours, your neighbor’s, the community’s, and in fact, the whole city’s poop and pee running through the sewage system form the cornerstone of biosecurity infrastructure to detect the earliest cases of the next health emergency, and get ahead of the curve. 

The beautiful thing about your waste is it’s anonymous, equal opportunity–everyone’s waste counts–and timely. Symptoms, appointments, and testing can take a while, but waste presents itself regularly. Waste doesn’t need health insurance.

But poop and pee need a voice; otherwise they’re just coursing silently through sewage pipes underground. We, at Biobot, provide that voice. 

Here’s how it works.

Sewage plants today already collect wastewater samples and test for various toxins. Biobot builds upon this already existing infrastructure. A tiny bit of the sewage plant sample, about one cup, is collected and sent to Biobot’s lab in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Here, we test it for potential threats. We have a dazzling array of assays–tests to detect microorganisms or chemicals–at our command and are continually developing more. 

Want to get more granular? Sampling from manholes allows us to look at neighborhoods and figure out which particular communities within a larger city may be at risk. And since we’re still sampling a whole community, the privacy of individuals is preserved.

As quickly as one day, we’ve got an answer for you. We can tell you about a spike in the concentration of fentanyl in a small town. We’ll tell you about rising RSV in a beachside community. Or we’ll reassure you that we’re not seeing mpox in the sample you sent us.

This way you can act immediately. If you’re a hospital, you can prepare for an influx of cases by rescheduling non-emergency care. If you’re a city official, you can step up your communications and proactively buy medical supplies. If you’re a parent-to-be, or immunocompromised, or living with the elderly, you could play it safe by staying home that night. 

And hey, if there’s no emergency, you can go wild, make exciting plans for the weekend.

Today, we’re testing 1000 locations a day, covering almost 100 million people. Providing early warning, protecting communities across America. 

All we need from you, is a little bit of your neighborhood’s waste. We hope you’ll consider sending some our way.

Written by Biobot Analytics

Biobot provides wastewater epidemiology data & analysis to help governments & businesses focus on public health efforts and improve lives.