Finding Clues to the Covid Outbreak in Our Sewage

Kando is testing municipal sewage to pinpoint coronavirus outbreaks. Photo: courtesy

Wastewater-based surveillance solution from Israel’s Kando can detect and pinpoint outbreak hotspots

By: Abigail Klein Leichman

A pilot project in Israel is looking for traces of SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus in municipal sewage systems. The idea is to identify and isolate areas proven to be Covid-19 hotspots.

The company masterminding this project, Kando, is not a new kid on the block.

“We are nine years old. Before the pandemic, we were involved in detecting and mapping wastewater quality and pollution in cities in the United States, Europe and Israel with the goal of improving water quality and reducing environmental damage,” says Yaniv Shoshan, VP Product and Marketing.

“We developed a service that measures and analyzes those parameters and creates insights for our clients,” he says.

“In February 2020, we saw we could pivot from pinpointing sources of industrial pollution in wastewater to pinpointing populations infected with Covid-19. We can use practically the same method and technology, people and mindset.”

Teaming up with Technion and Ben-Gurion University researchers, Kando adapted its methodology to incorporate virus-testing lab techniques in checking sewage gathered by its automatic samplers.

“Our IoT unit includes an autosampler, water quality sensors, flow sensors and a controller. The unit grabs a sample using AI to respond to network conditions. The samples are transported to the lab where the researchers developed a model to calculate flow and other parameters, like the ratio between human and industrial waste,” Shoshan explains.

“The end result is data on the size of the population affected upstream of the measurement unit. If the system is installed in a place that collects sewage from a neighborhood, we know how many are sick in that neighborhood.”

The system is so granular that if it’s installed in the sewage system of a single street, it could show not only how many residents on that street are infected but even which houses are the source of the infected waste.

The weeks-long Ashkelon pilot was a proof-of-concept and will help Kando realistically calibrate the parameters of the model that were set theoretically. Results are to be published next week.

Shoshan says the company has received inquiries about the virus sampling system “from every continent.”

Because Kando already operates its wastewater pollution detection system globally, it can easily scale up the new product, he tells ISRAEL21c.

“We have partners and equipment ready in all the places where we have customers. We are a full solution company — our systems are installed and maintained so the customer does nothing but get the data,” he says.

“We don’t have a lab inhouse, so we added a lab service to our team in the last few months,” he explains.

Those customers are typically municipalities, government agencies or health ministries.

Headed by CEO Ari Goldfarb, Kando is headquartered in Tzur Yigal and has an office in Colorado.

An American company, Biobot Analytics, is also testing sewage to detect SARS-CoV-2. This company normally focuses on detecting public-health hazards in wastewater, such as traces of pharmaceuticals.

“Biobot, as I understand it, is mainly a smart laboratory,” says Shoshan. “The customer needs to gather the samples. We are not a lab. We came from the method of pinpointing a source using a system of sensors and autosamplers.”

   (Israel 21C)