Wastewater testing for COVID-19 nixed

MOUNT DESERT — The Board of Selectmen on Monday rejected a suggestion by members of the warrant committee that wastewater be tested for the virus that causes COVID-19 as it enters the three municipal treatment plants. 

The estimated cost would have been $54,800 to $85,800 a year. 

The warrant committee discussed the matter at its Feb. 9 meeting. 

“It was generally agreed that such testing would heighten local awareness of the pandemic and possibly prevent people from becoming complacent about it,” said Wastewater Superintendent Ed Montague.  

However, he said in a memo to Public Works Director Tony Smith, “In-house testing would not be possible with our current laboratory and staff. Significant training and equipment would be needed for our lab to be able to conduct these tests, provided we could even find the training and equipment.” 

Montague said he had contacted a company in Boston that does this type of testing and could analyze wastewater samples that the town collected. Based on the turnaround time and amount of data requested, the cost would range from $1,050 to $1,650 a week. 

“For our town, taking one sample weekly of the incoming sewage at the headworks of each treatment plant will be of little benefit to us, as we would not be able to isolate the sources of the positive tests,” Montague said. “It will tell us if we have COVID in the waste stream, but we already know that there is a high probability of that from the data that the Maine CDC provides.” 

Also, he said, data about coronavirus in the wastewater would be skewed by what he called “outside influences.” 

“Usage of public restrooms, visitors, employees who live outside of Mount Desert, contractors and more contribute toward our waste stream and vary on a day-to-day basis. 

Besides, Montague said, “We have no clear use for the information we [would] get.” 

The selectmen agreed that wastewater testing would not be worthwhile. 

“There would be no benefit to the health and wellbeing of the residents of Mount Desert,” Selectman Matt Hart said. 

In fact, Selectmen Wendy Littlefield said, it might be scarier to know there is coronavirus in the system but not know where it came from or what to do about it. 

Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]
Dick Broom

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