To contain the panic caused by a recent study that indicated presence of Covid-19 genes in the waters of the Sabarmati Riverfront, Chandola and Kankaria lakes, the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) has initiated another study of not only waste water but also water treatment plants supplying water to city residents.
Sources revealed that the parallel study being conducted by the civic body and Gujarat Biotechnology Research Centre (GBRC) has samples collected from six waste water bodies and three fresh water treatment plants.
These include these three water bodies- Sabarmati Riverfront, Chandola and Kankaria lake- which were also covered under recent Indian Institute of Technology Gandhinagar (IIT-Gn) study funded by UNICEF that detected presence of N,S, and ORF lab genes of SARS-CoV-2, along with samples collected from Vasna sewage treatment plant and Motera pumping station. AMC has collected samples from two locations of Sabarmati Riverfront-near Sardar bridge and Nehru bridge.
The fresh water samples are collected from Kotarpur water treatment plant, Jaspur water treatment plant and Raska water treatment plant. This would be the first time such a study is being conducted on fresh water supplied to Ahmedabad city residents.
Confirming the development, Harpalsinh Zala, AMC’s incharge city engineer told The Sunday Express, “This parallel study is being done pro-actively from these waste water bodies after the recent IIT-Gn study was released. The tests are being conducted by GBRC as we do not have the testing facility.”
On the tests being conducted on freshwater from water treatment plants, Zala said, “This is being done to confirm independently and establish the previous study. There is no reason for the residents to scare.”
Raw water from Narmada Main canal, Dholka Branch Canal and Shedhi Branch Canal along with ground water through borewells is treated by different water treatment plants and converted to portable water as per Central Public Health and Environmental Engineering Organisation (CPHEEO) norms by AMC’s water project department. The water from the main source of the city-Narmada main canal — is treated at Kotarpur water treatment plant while Jaspur water treatment plant treats water from Dholka branch canal and water from Shedhi branch canal water is treated at Raska water treatment plant.
The recent study with IIT-Gn faculty member from the department of Earth Sciences Prof Manish Kumar as the lead author stated that though it is not known that the genes found from Sabarmati Riverfront, Chandola lake and Kankaria lake were alive or not but further research is needed to confirm the findings. The study that was put out last month, showing the presence of the genes, however, caused a scare.
Prof Kumar told The Indian Express, “During the testing process, the virus is being precipitated from the samples (water) and destroyed to be able to run a RT-PCR test on it. So during the extraction process, they are destroyed. So, the percentage of dead or alive genes needs to be studied.”
Prior to this, three similar studies have been conducted with Prof Kumar as the lead author. The earlier studies reported by The Indian Express included the wastewater surveillance on concentration of same SARS-CoV-2 RNA genome, conducted last year that found a higher concentration of the virus in the samples collected in early November, especially in Motera, Ranip and eastern parts of Odhav and Satyam pumping station zones, and warned of a surge in cases that the city eventually saw nearly two weeks later.
Co-authored by professor Madhvi Joshi from Gujarat Biotechnology Research Centre (GBRC), Anil Shah from Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB), Vaibhav Srivastava from IIT-Gandhinagar, and Shyamnarayan Dave from UNICEF Gujarat, the study, however, notes that there was “no concrete relationship between virus RNA and daily cases numbers”.
The study had also made a case that the Surveillance of Wastewater for Early Epidemic Prediction (SWEEP)-based model, covering both asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic patients, can help zoning of the city and identifying hotspots as against clinical surveillance, which “hardly classify the city into precise zones where more tests or attention are required”.
On March 17, 2021 the European Commission (EC) in a communication to the European Parliament and the European Council, had recommended tracking the novel coronavirus presence in wastewater across the European Union. “Wastewater surveillance can be used for preventive or early warning purposes, as virus detection in wastewater is a sign of the possible re-emergence of the virus,” the EC communication stated.