sewer warning system

All cities have their own personality and attractions. One thing they all have in common is a sewer system. To paraphrase an old saying, “what goes up must go down – the drain.” Despite the recoil that most probably feel when talking about toilets, there is a wealth of data to be had in the wastewater from a city.

This Cities Today piece talks about the potential for IoT sensors being able to monitor for Covid-19 and hence provide another surveillance tool for monitoring disease spread. In some ways this harkens back to one of the original contact tracing efforts – John Snow’s mapping of cholera cases in London that clustered around a certain water pump head. In the proposed IoT solution, you’re not tracking the cases but rather the virus particles themselves – which can give you a different perspective. Combining this with other contact tracing may help cities get a handle on dealing with pandemics.

This approach has also shown promise for understanding emerging drug threats. This RAND work discusses analysis of waste water for metabolites of drugs that typically are abused/illegal (e.g. cocaine, opiates). Given the current pandemic and impending challenges around drug-resistant bacteria, this analysis could expand to look for where antibiotics are being over-used, or where other medications with dubious efficacy are being used for treatment, or even where counterfeit medications are prevalent.

Want to know what’s going on in your city? The answer may be underground…

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