San Francisco International to test airplane wastewater for Covid-19 variants

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San Francisco International Airport (SFO) in California has launched a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) program to continuously monitor airplane wastewater samples from the on-site triturator for variants of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19.

CDC’s partner in administering the program, Concentric by Ginkgo, the biosecurity and public health unit of Boston-based synthetic biology company Ginkgo Bioworks, has installed an automatic sampling device that regularly collects combined wastewater flows from international arriving flights at SFO. These samples are then sent to an approved laboratory for testing.

SFO had previously supplied wastewater samples from its treatment plant to the University of California – San Francisco Medical Center to identify new Covid-19 variants. This latest program will be limited to wastewater samples from the International Terminal.

Ivar C Satero, airport director at SFO, said, “We are proud to be the first airport to launch this pilot program with CDC. Throughout the pandemic, SFO led the way in enhanced screening, on-site vaccination and surveillance programs. This latest effort represents the most targeted approach to identify, monitor and ultimately mitigate Covid-19 variants.”

Dr Cindy Friedman, chief of CDC’s Travelers’ Health Branch, commented, “As we know from the Covid-19 pandemic, pathogens can spread quickly across the globe, impacting travel and trade. Testing of airplane wastewater can provide early detection of new Covid-19 variants and other pathogens that can cause outbreaks and pandemics. CDC appreciates the collaboration with SFO to further enhance these efforts.”

Matt McKnight, general manager of biosecurity at Ginkgo Bioworks, said, “Biology doesn’t respect borders, and airports and other ports of entry are critical nodes for monitoring the spread of pathogens. We are proud to partner with SFO on developing cutting-edge biosecurity technology to support public health.”

For more key Covid-19 updates from the passenger terminal industry, click here.

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