Xagoraraki to receive ASCE’s Horner Award

Jan. 28, 2022

Award-winning wastewater research earns another national honor

The identification of SARS-CoV-2 in Detroit’s wastewater system and the early warning it is providing for regional health officials have earned two environmental engineers from Michigan State University a top national award from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).

Irene Xagoraraki
Irene Xagoraraki

Irene Xagoraraki, a professor of environmental engineering, and her Ph.D. student Brijen Miyani will be presented with the 2022 Wesley W. Horner Award from the ASCE’s Environmental and Water Resources Institute. Established in 1968, the award recognizes significant research in hydrology, urban drainage, or sewage.

Xagoraraki and Miyani will be honored during ASCE’s 2022 World Environmental and Water Resources Congress in Atlanta, Georgia, in June. Their research, SARS-CoV-2 in Detroit Wastewater, was published in the November 2020 issue of Journal of Environmental Engineering. Xagoraraki served as senior/corresponding author on the paper.

Neeraj Buch, chairman of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, called the research “translational.”

“It is a leading example of how a partnership between public and private sectors and academia can develop tools for identifying public health related outbreaks,” he said. “This best paper award from ASCE (which represents 150,000 members of the civil engineering profession in 177 countries) is a testament to the work Dr. Xagoraraki and her collaborators are doing in their laboratory.”

The research team collects untreated wastewater samples from the Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA) Water Resource Recovery Facility (WRRF) in southeast Michigan. WRRF is the largest single-site wastewater treatment facility in the U.S. It receives wastewater from its service area via three main interceptors: Detroit River, North Interceptor-East Arm, and Oakwood-Northwest-Wayne County.

“Quantification of concentrations of human viruses, such as SARS-CoV-2, in wastewater is a critical first step in the development of wastewater-based epidemiology predictive methods,” she explained. “However, accurate prediction involves the incorporation of multiple other measurements, data, and processes. A viral disease prediction model that incorporates other inputs is currently being developed for COVID-19 in Detroit.”

Xagoraraki and her team began a wastewater-based-epidemiology project in 2017, in collaboration with the City of Detroit. Their investigation of community composite samples is explained in this video.

Acclaim of her work continues to grow. Her lab at MSU has already received $3.7 million for wastewater evaluation and reporting in Southeast Michigan. The newest grant is a continuation of the award-winning research that serves as an early warning system for COVID-19 and other virus-related work in the Detroit area.

She has been awarded the American Society of Civil Engineering (ASCE) Society State-of-the-Art of Civil Engineering Award for her virus-related work. The Society Award is presented each year to recognize the expert efforts of civil engineers who are advancing their profession either through achievement or published papers. ASCE is the nation’s oldest engineering society.

Research publications have shared the ongoing findings:

Science Directhttps://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0043135420306977
Journal of Applied Microbiology:
October 2020: https://sfamjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/jam.14895 and February 2021: https://sfamjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/jam.15027

Other publications have also described the research:
ASCE Library: https://ascelibrary.org/doi/abs/10.1061/%28ASCE%29EE.1943-7870.0001907 and https://ascelibrary.org/doi/full/10.1061/%28ASCE%29EE.1943-7870.0001831

Her break-through research on viruses in environmental systems has led to other recognitions, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Scientific and Technological Achievement Award.

“Working with talented and enthusiastic graduate students to create a productive and visionary environmental virology laboratory that focuses on public health issues is among my most important accomplishments,” she added.