Scotland’s Covid-19 wastewater monitoring programme extended until March 2022

Liquid handling using a multichannel pipette at SEPA molecular biology lab.

A project to monitor Covid-19 by measuring its genetic footprint in wastewater will continue for another year after an additional £2.3 million of funding was announced by the Scottish Government on 22 March.

The extension until March 2022 means that the Scottish Environment Protection Agency’s laboratory near Eurocentral will continue analysing around 200 samples a week, collected by Scottish Water from wastewater treatment works across the country. Current monitoring is focussed on supporting the community testing programme and represents over 70% of the Scottish population.

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.

SEPA was among the first European agencies to begin work, with the help of key partners, to pinpoint fragments of coronavirus’ RNA in local waste water samples in May 2020.

Data for all samples analysed is available at

wastewater plant

Terry A’Hearn, SEPA Chief Executive, said: “The additional funding announced by Scottish Government will play a significant role in Scotland’s recovery from Covid-19. We’re proud that our science expertise is helping public health partners make key decisions to support community testing and we’ll continue to work closely with health specialists and academic partners.

“With the backing of Scottish Government and Public Health Scotland, alongside Scottish Water, we’re delivering a service that enables us to have a richer picture of the prevalence of the virus – which will be key in helping to inform Scotland’s route out of lockdown.”

George Ponton, Head of Research and Innovation at Scottish Water, said:

“We welcome the new funding from Scottish Government to enable the continuation of the great collaborative efforts of Scottish Water, SEPA and the Health Boards in using wastewater monitoring as a means to track Covid.

“The expansion of the sampling programme into the sewer networks, as well as the treatment works, means that we are increasing the coverage and helping health professionals to target their testing resources into areas of concern. It’s great for all involved in the programme to feel part of the combined efforts to suppress the virus.”

The practicalities and challenges of tracking the SARS-Cov-2 virus in wastewater were addressed at a recent panel discussion held by environmental consultancy Aqua Enviro.