Advancements in Managing COVID-19: Water Action Platform 17
It's August 20th 2020 and welcome to the Water Action Platform. This platform is dedicated to collaboration and knowledge sharing within the water sector. It is open to all and free at the point of use. This week we have a particular focus on technology. My
colleague Matt Stevenson will give an overview of the technology scan that we recently completed that was focused on COVID-19 solutions. We also have an important update on how we can address the diversity challenge within the water sector and of course we'll have the usual updates from the knowledge hubs. However, we start with news on the Crisis Response Register which was launched last week. On Tuesday the 10th of August, one week after the terrible accident in Lebanon, we through the Water Action Platform launched the Crisis Response Register. This is a register for water professionals who are open to offering their professional skills during times of crisis or emergency.
The response has been overwhelming. At the beginning of this week we had 93 registered volunteers with a wide range of expertise coming from 27 countries around the world. More volunteers join every day. Having populated
the register with willing volunteers we then reached out to multiple NGOs, charities, disaster relief agencies as listed here. If you know of any organisation that you think we should be speaking to which isn't listed here, please let me know. A good number of these organisations have already responded and we are progressing the discussions. So this begs the question, what actually is the latest that's happening in Beirut? There's 200 people dead, there's 6,000 people injured and there's 300,000 people who are homeless. However, thankfully things are not quite as bad as we may be perherst first thought.
The port is at 30% capacity which means food shortages are at least not anticipated. Looking at the water situation specifically, through UNESCO we've been able to engage with the local water utility, EBML. They've shared with us information on their current situation and have provided a list of specific items, pumps and pipes and converters and things like that which they need help sourcing. Through
the Water Action Platform two corporations have responded, XIO who has specific skater expertise and EMCO who have offices all around the world including in Lebanon. This Water Action Platform really is delivering action in Lebanon. Now before launching the Crisis Response Register, I spoke with Rami Gandur, the CEO of Matito based in Dubai. Rami has personal connections to Lebanon and is very familiar with the needs within the country and the challenges of working there. The full interview is available on our website. It includes an inspiring story which is perhaps a template for how the Crisis Response Register could work. Rami
describes how last year they assisted a school which was purchasing a new water treatment system. They did it not by sending hardware which could have been diverted to the wrong people or by sending staff into the country but rather they did it by providing professional support that ensured that the orphanage who was the client received a functioning cost effective final solution. This story exemplified for me exactly how the professional expertise which we have made available through the CRR could be used to drive real benefit to people in need. To make a genuine positive impact doesn't necessarily mean that we need to be on the ground. In
fact in some cases it's better to let the local disaster support organisations do their job. Our role is to support them. So where next? Well our aim is to support not just the ongoing situation in Lebanon but future emergencies. With this in mind we will strengthen our links with the NGOs and aid agencies. There's already been the suggestion that the Crisis Response Register might be able to help with the Mauritian oil spill. In particular
the impact it will have on the local and the island's desalination facility. If you're interested in joining the CRR please register via this link. We now come to some of the highlights shared on the various Knowledge Hub WhatsApp groups. And let's start with this paper from the World Health Organisation which summarised the status of the global environmental surveillance of SARS-CoV-2. As any regular viewer of
these webinars knows the detection of non-infective RNA of SARS-CoV-2 in untreated waste waters has been repeated in multiple settings around the world. Researchers in the Netherlands, France, the USA have demonstrated that this method of surveillance could provide a four to seven day advance notice of the pandemic. Now that is an incredibly important and significant extra window which we can use to protect people.
At least one country, the Netherlands, plans to incorporate daily sewage surveillance into its national Covid monitoring. Scientists in China, the Netherlands and France have calculated the correlations between wastewater RNA concentrations and the reported clinical cases. And here's where it gets really interesting. The amounts of
virus being detected in the wastewater are much higher than we expected. SARS-CoV-2 is shed by people early on when they catch the disease, often days before they know they're even ill. It also infects a large asymptomatic population. Now that makes it an ideal target for wastewater based epidemiology. In the study that's
highlighted here, the authors developed a laboratory protocol to quantify viral titras of the raw sewage via qPCR. In the figures shown here, they normalize the data for sewage samples collected in March at two sampling points at a big sewage treatment works in Massachusetts. The top graph has the original SARS-CoV-2 titras, average from triplicate samples. The bottom graph has them after they've been adjusted for the dilution of raw sewage. Now these results suggest that the number of positive cases estimated from wastewater tests is orders of magnitude greater than the numbers of confirmed clinical cases.
What does that mean in practice? Well, if true, it may significantly impact our efforts to understand the case fatality rate and the progression of the disease. Data like this is important because it will inform the decisions being made by governments about what they do to advance or scale back social distancing and quarantine efforts. In a similar vein, in this paper, they found that temperature and in sewer travel time can severely impact the virus detectability. However, and the bit that I found most amazing in this second paper was that one infected individual is theoretically at least detectable in a population of 2 million. Crucially, these authors also concluded that WBE, wastewater-based epidemiology, is orders of magnitude cheaper and faster than clinical screening. They claim that 2 billion people could be monitored from just 100,000 sewage treatment works around the world. That's an average of 20,000 people
per works. I did the sums. The combined use of WBE followed by clinical testing could save billions of dollars. Now, staying with the temperature dependence topic for a couple more minutes, I'd like to gallop through four papers because they tell us something really quite important. First, there's this paper, which looked at data from 166 countries and they found that the pandemic may be partially suppressed when the temperature and humidity increases. Next, there's this study,
which revealed that SARS-CoV-2 has a greater chance of survival if the air temperature is between 5 and 15 degrees C and where the absolute humidity is in the range of 3 to 10 grams, with a peak, i.e. it being its worst, at 5 grams per meter cubed. Thirdly, there's this study from the US which concluded that humidity is the best predictor of COVID-19 transmission, or certainly it's better than solar radiation and temperature. And finally, there's this paper from Oslo, a cold environment.
Now, they found that rainfall as opposed to sunshine was the thing that had the biggest effect on reducing transmission rates. Now, these authors postulated, perhaps not unreasonably, that when it rains people stay indoors and thus that reduces transmission. Now, taking in the round, all of these papers I think provide a broad direction of evidence which supports the expectation that we are probably facing a winter resurgence as temperatures drop. We need to be prepared. Finally, and as perhaps a little segue into Matt's section on technology, news was shared this week that in Vietnam following the pandemic there, there's been an almost doubling of the numbers of customers adopting electronic billing. Having a more open mind to adopting digital technology is, without a doubt, one of the few positives that's come from this pandemic.
It is further supported by this report from the United Nations which was shared on our SDG knowledge hub. This report concludes that by adopting AI applications we will significantly enhance our chances of meeting the water-related SDGs with potential positive savings of 200 billion dollars by 2030. Now, Matt, with that news about the importance and relevance of technology in a post-COVID world, I can't think of a better way to hand over to you. Okay, so hello
everyone. I'm Matthew Stevenson. I'm European Director at R utilities and I've led our initiatives on COVID-19 technologies. I'm delighted and honoured to be here today to talk to you. I'd like to give a flavour of the results from the technology study we performed earlier this year and highlight some of the ready-to-go solutions that we felt might have the most immediate potential to help in managing COVID-19. The study was funded by 23 water companies from banks from Europe, Australia, USA, South America and we're grateful for their contributions and their openness to share these results on this forum. The study's aim was to
find technologies that could help water utilities deal with the COVID crisis. To understand the technology that may help, it's important to understand the virus itself. So in part, this technology review has involved a study of the latest global understanding of the virus in relation to water and wastewater. We also assessed the scope of the impact the pandemic could have on a water utility, not just the technical risks it posed, but also the organisational and operational challenges that it was likely to introduce. And I have to
apologise for the size of some of the text on this slide which will be available after webinar. So to deal with this wide scope, the review was split into different aspects. One, how to deal with the presence of the virus. Two, how the virus is removed or deactivated. Three, how to maintain service while in lockdown or separating. And
four, solutions to help manage the crisis as a whole. We reviewed more than 200 technologies and proposed 100 suitable solutions that have now been presented in an online portal purpose built for this project. So what gems have we found for detecting the virus in water? Well, not a huge number. There are lots of
laboratory-based tests that are fairly widespread and common, but can take a few days to process. So our study focused on field tests that offered a faster indication of the presence of the virus. We uncovered a few technologies that have been quickly adapted for SARS-CoV-2. These are the rapid testing kits from Lumen Ultra, Waterlens and Oxford Nanopore and can typically provide a positive or negative result for the presence of the SARS-CoV-2 RNA within an hour or so. Now we didn't find any established online sensors for continuous monitoring of the virus, but we believe at least one may be in development and would be happy to connect to anyone who might be interested in this.
When talking about the testing, the topic often moves quickly to looking for the virus in the wastewater system. Piers has talked about this already today, wastewater-based epidemiology. It's a subject that's been making headlines for months now as more cities use this technique as an alternate vehicle for understanding the spread of the virus in the wider community. We've highlighted the systems that can help make sense of the test data by connecting results with location and advanced analytics. We highlighted GoIGWA, BioBot and CANDU. Of course there are
a multitude of these epidemiological projects running today around the world, but here we've highlighted some of the systems that can be used to turn that data into results. Moving on to technologies that can be used to monitor the health of staff, we found a whole host of technologies for fast or mass monitoring of temperature. We found 11 solutions for monitoring staff health and also uncovered a number of wearable devices for monitoring vital stats, measuring analytes in breath and even detecting the sound of coughs. Some of these technologies are a little bit Tony Stark and some quite early in their readiness for the market, but there is clearly a growing global demand for these types of screening devices that is not specific to the water industry and could be useful for large organisations with a big workforce. When it comes to technologies to kill or more correctly inactivate the virus, we need to give a quick reminder. The advice of the World Health Organisation is that traditional water and wastewater treatment processes are sufficient to remove the risk of the virus entering into the water system.
Our aim in this study has been to identify which parts of the treatment processes can be evidenced as deactivating or removing the virus. This is an important point because on current evidence there is no viable virus present in water or wastewater. So this part of the study was all about providing a backstop, confidence and deeper understanding of the mechanisms and technologies that can deactivate the virus that is behind them. There is very good evidence from Darnell in 2004, Chen 2006 and Wang in 2020 around the reaction of SARS-CoV-1 and SARS-CoV-2 with different disinfection mechanisms. According to
this combined research, chlorine-based disinfection is highly effective at destroying the outer lipid layer of the coronavirus. So too is UV light in the typical germicidal spectrum. There's a wealth of detail concerning the different chlorine-based mechanisms, which ones are more efficient and their relative strengths and weaknesses, but there's overall good evidence of their efficacy against corona and other virus. The same for UV
treatment, there are many differences between the existing UV technologies mainly around energy use, bulb type, reliability, but efficacy of deactivating coronavirus is clear. We believe that this may also be the case for ozone-related treatment, but it should be noted that at the time of this study we didn't find definitive research showing the effectiveness of ozone disinfection on the SARS-CoV family of virus. So to remove rather than kill the virus, filters with pore sizes smaller than 50 nanometers are needed, pointing us to ultrafiltration, nanofiltration and reverse osmosis technologies. It's critical to point out
that microfiltration due to its larger pore size will not give a guarantee of removing the virus. In our study we've provided some examples of suitable technologies for this purpose, but there are hundreds of technologies that fit into these categories. As you probably know, this is not new science. So overall, if your water and wastewater treatment processes include any of these technologies, then this offers a more direct explanation of how the virus would be treated should it ever be present. So after ways to detect, remove or deactivate the virus, we turn our attention to what has arguably been the most significant impact on water utilities around the world so far. The disruption and
complication of lockdowns, social distancing measures and staff absence due to illness. From early discussions with some water utilities, those who already had remote access to their systems were clearly at an advantage when lockdowns began. One could argue that remote access to systems has been the single most important technology during the pandemic. That and maybe Netflix. So we've rounded up a number of technologies that help with remote management and control of water. Managing staff safely and finally of systems that are designed for use in times of crisis for COVID and beyond. A few examples of
solutions that remove or reduce the need to travel to site are here. We found 28 technologies like these, all offering incremental steps towards a more remote utility operation. For example, kick the map is a clever way of surveying a site and produces a 3D plan using a smartphone, potentially very useful for initial site surveys and risk assessments.
Viforia Chalk is an artificial intelligence platform that allows teams to communicate online and share knowledge intuitively, perhaps of real use in standby situations where there may not be enough time to get to site but advice over the traditional phone may not be quite enough. And 8Powers Condition Monitoring solution covered a few weeks ago on this webinar with its energy harvesting device which means far fewer visits to site are theoretically necessary whilst maintaining continuous monitoring of critical devices. And on to communication solutions. As many of us understand, communication is critical in times of crisis. We uncovered a handful of technologies that may not be new but possibly not considered for the utility sector before. Key technologies here were the examples from Udo, Torquater, Onwave and Redport Global. Udo offers a
completely separate emergency management platform for communications and data sharing, a secure place to share information valid for a whole range of business critical scenarios such as cyber attack or national emergencies. The Torquater solution provides real-time updates on press and consumer opinion. Do you know what's being said about your organisation today? The Onwave OWL solution allows fast dissemination and communication of hazard and worksite information to field staff via smartphones. As the risks and hazards related to COVID-19 are dynamic, I can see how a live solution like this can help people protect people on site and ensure they are aware of the latest rules on risk mitigation. And the Redport Global solution provides temporary remote voice and internet via satellite devices in case the web we are all now so dependent on is out of action. If you're
in any doubt about the importance of these technologies, ask yourself how would your organisation fare in an emergency if you are unable to communicate with your teams? Of course, there are management platforms that help with the whole subject of contingency and incident management. Don't panic, just turn to the incident management system to ensure all aspects of managing that incident are remembered. From staff welfare, impact on customers, communicating with authorities, the press your organisation. Records of agreed actions and reporting on instance statistics and giving updates to stakeholders, there is a small handful of software solutions that claim to take account of all these aspects. We were impressed particularly with Noggin 2.0, worth the look
particularly their COVID-19 module as well as the similar solution from Raven. We're told these systems can be typically implemented within days and are often sold on a software as a service basis. We love to see solutions like these that are intuitively centred around the device that we carry with us all the time, the smartphone. And finally, as we all try to return to some level of normal operation with the threat of the virus around us, there are some solutions that help with the return to work. Self-checks and staff
compliance, the MyPass solution already used by a number of utilities to validate that their staff are qualified for work can now be used to ensure compliance with the utilities ongoing COVID governance, making sure records are kept for each member of staff and that they're up to date. I hope you agree, a really wide selection of technologies that are out there ready to use and with providers who are incredibly willing to help. Thanks for listening and if you're interested in knowing anything more about this study or any of the technologies mentioned, please get in touch. Thank you for that update, Matt. And finally, we're going to talk about an incredibly important topic, diversity in the water sector. Now you
might recall that in Webinar 14, I shared with you that Northumbrian Water here in the UK will be holding their annual Innovation Festival virtually this year. A particular feature of these festivals are the sprints. These are designed to fast track solutions and focus on specific issues over the four day period of the festival. This year, IAL is taking the lead on one of these sprints, looking specifically at the issue of workplace diversity in the water sector. I welcome you joining us. Your
involvement would only require a few 45 minute zoom calls during their four days of the festival. It's going to be an international sprint. It'll involve people from Australia, Europe and North and Latin America. Now at one stage, what we were intending to do at this part of the webinar was have a live interview with Katie Mills, the head of innovation at Schneider, because Schneider is part of this sprint and they're sponsoring it and they're actively involved in moving it forward. However, unfortunately, in a sort of stark reminder of the times we live in, Katie contacted me last night to say that unfortunately her husband's fallen ill, probably with Covid-19. So doing a live interview was no longer practical.
What she did do, however, was she sent me some words that she wanted to share here, which I'm delighted to read. When I said to her, well, you know, what would you like to get out of this sprint? She said, what we want to do is we want to learn from others about the initiatives that they have seen work and we want to share experiences so that we can create at the end of the four day period a comprehensive report that lists all the best practices that we can implement across our organisations. And that's a key feature here. This sprint will
generate a report which will be made available widely, which will highlight the best practices on diversity in the workplace. And that's diversity in its broadest context. It's about colour, creed, gender, age, all of those sorts of issues. She did go on to say, I'm looking forward to hearing other people's experiences and understanding the position of privilege that I find myself in. I
thought that was so insightful, because in particular, as many of us who have experienced privilege that we often overlook. I can't wait to work with like-minded individuals within the water sector so we can make a real difference. Thank you for that, Katie. I hope your husband recovers quickly and that you don't fall ill. With that, I bring this webinar to a
close. I thank our partners and sponsors for their kind and continued support. We have a new sponsor, WaterSpark. Now, WaterSpark exists to scale innovative water solutions. They combine awareness programmes with corporates and investors and entrepreneurs. And one of their founding partners is Pure Terra Ventures, which is probably well known to many people on this webinar because of their high profile work in supporting early stage tech companies. The next webinar will be
in three weeks time on September the 10th. It's going to include an interview with the CEO of Tazwater, who you might recall wrote a board paper in May describing how they're going to restructure their business in a post-COVID world. The board paper was shared on the water action platform and stands currently as the most requested document that's been made available here. The CEO, Mike Brewster, will provide an update on how things have gone. It promises to be a great session. Megan
will circulate calendar invites shortly, or I will because actually Megan's on leave at the moment. And with that, I bring this week's webinar to a close. Please don't forget to let me know if you want to be part of the Diversity Sprint next month. Keep asking questions, keep sharing, keep safe. Thank you.