Poop don't lie

poop traveling in pipes

It has been a stinky few years, right? While there is no overstating the devastating impact of the COVID pandemic, it also led to positive innovations, like the use of wastewater for public health purposes. Testing wastewater allows us to look for certain diseases that might be affecting our communities.  

Wastewater was identified as a valuable tool by experts and leaders right here in Santa Clara County in the early days of the pandemic, when very little was known about COVID. Did you know this type of analysis has expanded in Santa Clara County, and across the United States, to better understand the presence of other diseases like flu, norovirus, and RSV? 

Pop a squat and watch the moment Santa Clara County looked to wastewater during the pandemic

Everyone uses the bathroom

Most toilets in Santa Clara County lead to one of four regional wastewater plants. They are located in Gilroy, Palo Alto, San José, and Sunnyvale. Higher levels of a virus in a wastewater sample mean more people may have the disease in the community. Wondering how poop ends up being scientific data? Follow the feces:

  1. When someone has a virus like the flu or COVID, it shows up in their poop.
  2. The poop travels through sewage pipes and makes its way to wastewater treatment facilities in Santa Clara County.
  3. At the treatment plant, a sample of the solids in the wastewater is taken for lab analysis in the beginning of the treatment process, and then tested.

Our data are solid. Get it?

Wastewater data are available sooner than clinical case results, which is why it is called an “early signal” (no, not the type of signal your stomach makes after your morning coffee). Wastewater provides information about whether the amount of virus is going up or down within the community, or if new diseases are plopping up (get it?). This allows the Public Health Department to do what they do best: Take action and recommend ways you can protect your health, too.  

Poop travelling in pipe

Why you should give a you-know-what

No matter who you are, wastewater impacts you. What kind of toilet flusher are you?


    Great! Keep on flushing. 

    • With each flush, you contribute directly to understanding where certain viruses are spreading.
    • Wastewater can be as helpful as checking the traffic. For instance, just like you could choose an alternate route rather than getting stuck on 101, you could take more protective measures when wastewater data show higher levels of virus in the community.
    • For example, if virus levels of COVID in wastewater are higher, you might decide to wear a mask indoors or avoid crowded areas.
    poop with hard hat

    You spend every day protecting the health of the public. Talk about it.

    • Get the public excited about wastewater and interested in your treatment plant.
    • Start by sharing the video starring your colleagues! 
    poop on podium

    Don't flush an opportunity down the toilet.  

    • Share wastewater data with your constituents to keep them informed. 
    • Work with your stakeholders to discuss the importance of wastewater for public health.
    • Collaborate with Public Health on recommended protective measures when the wastewater data show higher concentrations of virus.
      poop partners

      Poo is a collaborator too.

      • Understand current impacts of certain diseases in your community and share the wastewater data with them.
      • Collaborate with Public Health on ways to take action by sharing this webpage and the wastewater video.
      • Talk about the important role wastewater plays in protecting the community. 
      poop with stethoscope

      Wastewater data gives you a head start. 

      • Since wastewater data is available sooner and more comprehensive than case results, you can plan ahead for surges.  
      • Share the data with your patients. 
      poop with graduation cap

      It is cool to be a wastewater nerd. 

      • Analyze the data (we know you’re pooping your pants for it).
      • Use wastewater in your reports and thesis.
      • Show our video to your students and colleagues.
        Poop don't lie

        A fun subject to make a stink about.

        • Make wastewater part of science, math, and health education.
        • Show our video in class.

        We know you’re scrolling in there. Take your time. 

        • Wastewater analysis is a cool detection process you contribute to each time you flush the toilet. 
        • Looking for something fun and nerdy to share on social? Check out some poopin', or rather, poppin’ posts.
        Poop with kid hat

        Do your kids think poop is awesome? So does Public Health! 

        • Potty training must have been no walk in the wastewater plant, but now their little turds contribute to science! 
        • Teach them about wastewater plants so they can see where their poop goes, and how it helps protect their family and friends.

        Make a stink about wastewater on social media, in your classroom, newsletters, and more. Remember:

        Public Health Facebook


        Public Health Twitter


        Public Health Instagram


        Public Health YouTube


        Public Health LinkedIn


        No matter the mood, wastewater needs your poo.

        No matter the mood, wastewater needs your poo

        Wastewater data and facts

        poop in water

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