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Health Promotion and Behavioral Sciences


To assess the levels of infection across communities during the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic, researchers have measured severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 RNA in feces dissolved in sewer water. This activity is colloquially known as sewer monitoring and is referred to as wastewater-based epidemiology in academic settings. Although global ethical principles have been described, sewer monitoring is unregulated for health privacy protection when used for public health surveillance in the United States. This study used Qualtrics XM, a national research panel provider, to recruit participants to answer an online survey. Respondents (N = 3,083) answered questions about their knowledge, perceptions of what is to be monitored, where monitoring should occur, and privacy concerns related to sewer monitoring as a public health surveillance tool. Furthermore, a privacy attitude questionnaire was used to assess the general privacy boundaries of respondents. Participants were more likely to support monitoring for diseases (92%), environmental toxins (92%), and terrorist threats (88%; e.g., anthrax). Two-third of the respondents endorsed no prohibition on location sampling scale (e.g., monitoring single residence to entire community was acceptable); the most common location category respondents wanted to prohibit sampling was at personal residences. Sewer monitoring is an emerging technology, and our study sheds light on perceptions that could benefit from educational programs in areas where public acceptance is comparatively lower. Respondents clearly communicated guard rails for sewer monitoring, and public opinion should inform future policy, application, and regulation measures.


© 2022 LaJoie et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

Original Publication Information

LaJoie AS, Holm RH, Anderson LB, Ness HD, Smith T (2022) Nationwide public perceptions regarding the acceptance of using wastewater for community health monitoring in the United States. PLoS ONE 17(10): e0275075. 10.1371/journal.pone.0275075