Stock Abu Dhabi skyline
The Abu Dhabi skyline. The beginning of the construction of a laboratory for analysis of wastewater samples in the emirate was announced by the Abu Dhabi Department of Energy last Sunday. Image Credit: WAM

Abu Dhabi: A new wastewater monitoring lab in Abu Dhabi will soon analyse wastewater samples and issue early warnings regarding the spread of infectious diseases, harmful substances and environmental degradation.

The beginning of construction on the lab was announced last Sunday by the Abu Dhabi Department of Energy (DoE). It will be developed in collaboration with G42 Healthcare, an Abu Dhabi-based health-tech company that has earlier led Phase III trials for COVID-19 vaccines in the UAE. The facility is expected to be completed within 12 months, and it will include capabilities to test for chemical, physical, and biological hazards, including infectious diseases (viruses/bacteria), parasites, pathogenic yeast and fungi, pharmaceutical compounds, and other lifestyle-related items. The tests will include automated sampling and Artificial-Intelligence-powered data analysis.

Water quality

The DoE has exerted efforts to guarantee the quality of treated water, and ensure it is free of any harmful substances, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, during which wastewater has been examined for any traces of SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes COVID-19.

Awaidha Murshed Al Marar

“Based on the success of the wastewater examination for traces of SARS-CoV-2 programme in 2020, the DoE launched the Wastewater Monitoring Lab — a state-of-the-art facility dedicated for such activities. Our objective is to protect the community at all times by developing systems to detect and curb threats to public health,” said Awaidha Murshed Al Marar, DoE chairman.

Useful tool

“The Wastewater Monitoring Lab can provide an early warning for potential contaminants and threats to public health and the environment. But it can also be a powerful tool allowing us to detect other pathogens, harmful chemicals, or even banned substances. This, in turn, creates a solid foundation for decisions and programmes to be developed to combat any emerging threat,” Al Marar added.

“The state-of-the-art wastewater analysis laboratory in Abu Dhabi will be the first of its kind in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region, positioning Abu Dhabi and the UAE as a pioneer in this space and establishing a benchmark for future projects. Leveraging cutting-edge technologies to analyse wastewater samples for infectious agents and harmful chemicals, the application of AI in this lab will enable an early warning system that will determine with high accuracy the origin of the outbreak or pollutant behaviour, detect the virus in locations with limited monitoring, and track the spread of a disease during an infectious outbreak,” said Ashish Koshy, G42 Healthcare chief executive officer.

Monitoring in 2020

In May 2020, the Abu Dhabi-based Khalifa University had said that its researchers were studying municipal wastewater to better understand the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The project helped surveil the viral load in municipal wastewater as a method for early detection, and for tracking the spread of the coronavirus in the general population.

A month later, the researchers announced that they had analysed treated wastewater from three different treatment plants across three emirates, and had not been able to detect any traces of the COVID-19 virus in the samples. The treated water was then deemed suitable for agriculture and municipal distribution.

Upcoming lab

The new lab project has outlined a list of objectives to be accomplished, including handling and processing emergency wastewater samples suspected of contamination with a harmful substance, as well as analysing samples suspected of contamination with a known or unknown substance. The lab can then confirm or rule out the presence of contaminants, check for additional contaminants that may be of a concern in the future, and report accurate results to inform potential intervention decisions. The facility will focus its efforts on harmful contaminants, such as radionuclides, biotoxins, pathogens, biological hazards, and high concentrations of industrial chemicals or illegal discharge.