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Innovative wastewater surveillance project at Toronto Pearson


Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA) is to implement a cutting-edge, on-site laboratory to perform wastewater surveillance testing at Pearson International Airport.

The pilot project, supported in part by funding from the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program, is using partner LuminUltra’s technology to test for the presence of sub-variants of the SARS-CoV-2 Omicron virus as well as Monkeypox in wastewater effluent from planes and airport terminals.

“This project aims to demonstrate that wastewater surveillance testing is an important tool for keeping travel open and available to Canadians,” says the GTAA’s director of safety and security, Dwayne Macintosh.

“As Canada’s largest airport, Toronto Pearson is leading the industry in exploring trials that leverage testing technology like this to help understand how data from airports can support public health officials in making smarter, more timely decisions.”

Testing effluent for the presence of specific viruses or pathogens has become a common, non-invasive method for measuring community health trends that has been used throughout the pandemic.

Earlier in 2022, LuminUltra delivered on a contract with the US Centers of Disease Control (CDC) to process samples from across the US as part of its National Wastewater Surveillance System.

“Wastewater is a very complicated sample type, which makes testing it very different than the clinical testing of individuals using nasal or throat swabs,” says Pat Whalen, chair and CEO of LuminUltra.

“Fortunately, our company has a decades-long history of working with difficult sample types, ranging from wastewater to oil and gas sludges, which is why we’ve been called upon multiple times by organisations like the CDC, the Government of Canada and private companies around the world to deliver this critical surveillance testing.”

The onsite laboratory at Pearson is equipped to run all required steps to process the PCR test for the specific targets, resulting in a rapid turnaround time from sample to result.

LuminUltra has provided all required components and staffing, including auto extraction units and high-throughput PCR devices, and has developed the assays that test for the specific targets: Omicron sub-variants and Monkeypox. The company is also able to add assays for more targets if needed.

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