House bills could put a halt to wastewater testing

Published: Jan. 25, 2021 at 9:16 PM CST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - As we enter this year’s legislative session with bills aimed around COVID-19, two pieces of legislation are trying to prohibit a certain way to track it.

Wastewater testing has been used for the last few months to track more accurate COVID-19 levels in more than 20 cities and communities across the state.

Microbiology students at North Dakota State University would have to stop months of work and research due to House Bill 1348.

Representatives sponsoring the bill like Rep. Claire Cory, R-Grand Forks, said they were approached by constituents over privacy concerns.

“What I wouldn’t want is for them to test and then give the dorm or the block or the apartment building they’re testing, force them to quarantine and things like that,” said Cory.

Wastewater testing has been conducted in partnership with the state Department of Environmental Quality and with permission from leaders of the cities and communities.

House Bill 1259 would require a public hearing before wastewater testing could go on.

“If that information is going public then that is something that insurances can look at and possibly affect rates. So I think a big part of having that discussion In the open is that there’s the opportunity for set parameters of what that data can be used for,” said bill sponsor Rep. Matthew Ruby, R-Minot.

Head of Microbiological Sciences for NDSU John McEvoy defended the testing, saying, in part:

“Because we collect samples from city wastewater treatment facilities, where all the wastewater from the city is mixed, we can only assess the amount of virus being produced by the entire population of the city... We cannot said anything about individual contributions to that wastewater,” said McEvoy.

In its earliest drafts the bill would strictly prohibit wastewater testing for all diseases but Cory said the bill will be amended to become COVID-19 specific.

According to McEvoy the bill is expected to be discussed this week, where advocates of the practice will be allowed to give their testimonies.

Copyright 2021 KFYR. All rights reserved.