The University of Saskatchewan (USask) and the City of Saskatoon have been honoured for their collaborative wastewater monitoring project that advances environmental and human health—one of 50 international projects named to the 2021 Smart 50 list.

Smart 50 Awards recognize global “smart cities” projects, honouring “the most innovative and influential work.” The award will be presented at the Smart 50 Awards gala in Washington, D.C., in October.

The award highlights the work of a joint project funded by the Research Junction partnership between the City and USask. The project measured levels of human pharmaceuticals such as antibiotics in Saskatoon’s wastewater to assess potential risks these chemicals might pose to the downstream environment.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, the partnership took an unexpected turn. USask researchers, together with the City of Saskatoon and the Saskatchewan Health Authority, began measuring traces of SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing COVID-19, in Saskatoon’s wastewater.

Trace amounts of virus in wastewater is a leading indicator of impending surges in case numbers. By gathering this information, the team and its partners have been able to alert authorities to upcoming trends in COVID cases. This project, initially funded by the Global Water Futures program and later awarded funding by the Public Health Agency of Canada, was also part of the award application.

“Working directly with City staff ensures that our wastewater research tackles some of the most immediate needs of municipalities today—from predicting virus trends to understanding potential environmental risks associated with trace contaminants such as pharmaceuticals in wastewater,” said toxicologist Markus Brinkmann, USask principal investigator on the Research Junction project and a faculty member in the School of Environment and Sustainability. “This partnership is in line with our aspiration to become the university the world needs.”

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Mike Sadowski, manager of the City of Saskatoon’s Wastewater Treatment Plant, is the city’s principal investigator on the project.

“The City of Saskatoon is pleased to support this award-winning research by the University of Saskatchewan, which is making use of wastewater-based epidemiology to provide valuable information to our local health authority experts,” said Sadowski. “This research has helped ensure Saskatoon remains a safe and healthy place to live, learn, work, and play every day.”

The awards are sponsored by Smart Cities Connect, Smart Cities Connect Foundation, and US Ignite—organizations committed to seeing technology used to improve the quality of life for residents at the municipal level. The list includes honourees from around the globe, including two others from Canada: Vaughan and Kitchener, Ontario. More information about the awards is available here.

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