Flush with data: Kando transforms public health with wastewater intelligence
Israeli startup uses data from sewage networks to identify potential health hazards
Earlier this year, Israeli health officials detected a worrying cluster of children with polio. One child was paralyzed, but many of those infected displayed no symptoms, making the outbreak hard to track.
The discovery of the polio outbreak came from a surprising source: wastewater.
“We are seeing more communities testing positive via sewage tests,” said Dr. Nachman Ash, Director General of Israel’s Health Ministry.
Although the technology to detect polio in wastewater has existed for a while, Kando, an Israeli startup, now helps health officials to understand exactly where outbreaks occur. Kando places sensors across a sewer network which then can detect polio, coronavirus and other diseases. The data helps public health experts pinpoint the location in real time.
The information is essential to tracking coronavirus hotspots so health officials know where to direct testing resources and vaccines.
“We provide real-time data via a dashboard to public health authorities, and then they take appropriate actions based on that information,” says Andrew Engeli, Kando’s Chief Strategy Officer.
“There are around 800 viruses, pathogens or targets that can be detected in wastewater,” Engeli says. Chemical and biomarkers can even reveal whether people in certain neighborhoods are eating sufficient fruits and vegetables.
Kando is currently focusing its public health efforts on identifying coronavirus, flu, and norovirus, which are the viruses responsible for the most hospitalizations worldwide, in addition to polio.
Kando’s technology can also detect if and where contamination is entering the sewage system, which can have significant consequences for reusing water.
Israel leads the world in wastewater recycling, with more than 90 percent treated and then reused, mostly for irrigation. When you flush a toilet in Tel Aviv, there is a good chance the wastewater will be cleaned and used to grow tomatoes in the Negev.
In the spring, officials in Tel Aviv detected salt in the sewers. Salt cannot be removed during the treatment process. Salty water harms crops and soil and cannot be used for agriculture.
“We had no idea what it was from, we thought it was hotels or something discharging salts,” says Shlomi Ben Arush, the environmental unit manager for Igudan, the company which collects, transports, and treats wastewater from the Tel Aviv metro region, home to some three million people.
Previously, Ben Arush had eight employees who would perform “grab tests” to track the city’s wastewater, by manually checking levels across the city.
“It was like a blind man looking in the dark: you needed a lot of luck to find anything,” he says. But Kando’s technology helped Ben Arush discover that the salt was entering the sewage system only during high tide, indicating that seawater was breaching the network. “It would have been very difficult to understand this without the insights.”
“Wastewater is a resource in Israel, not a nuisance, it’s like oil for us, and we must protect this resource,” he adds.
If a factory illegally dumps herbicide or pesticide into the wastewater system, those chemicals could kill the microorganisms that treat the wastewater, shutting down the entire plant and denying farmers millions of liters of water for their crops. Ben Arush now uses Kando’s technology to get a clear picture of the vast underground sewer system around Tel Aviv.
“In my office I have a dashboard, and it’s like being in the cockpit of an airplane,” Ben Arush says. “I know everything that’s happening in the network. Now my decision making has become more resilient, and more data based.”
Ari Goldfarb and Zohar Scheinin founded Kando in 2012. Goldfarb, who had managed a wastewater treatment plant, wanted to help guide other cities through the process of turning wastewater into a commodity. By 2030, global water demand is expected to outpace supply by 40%, so most countries will need to start widespread water recycling.
Goldfarb discovered there was no way to accurately measure the water quality coming into the plants, which made it difficult to convince cities that it was safe to reuse.
Kando was created to provide this essential information. The company uses its sensors, AI and proprietary algorithms to track thousands of data points, identifying and alerting cities to anomalies.
“All sorts of things can be in a sewer system, including chemicals from industrial plants or manufacturers,” Engeli says. Acidic chemicals can severely damage the sewer pipes or wastewater plant infrastructure. Undetected chemicals may not get cleaned in the treatment process and are unknowingly reused in irrigation or returned to streams. Factories looking to save costs may bypass their legal obligation to remove chemicals before effluents are discharged into the sewer.
Kando’s technology allows a city to locate where a contamination enters the network, which can help pinpoint those responsible. In addition to Israel, Kando is working with cities in Texas, California, and Colorado in the US, and in Italy, France, Germany, the UK and Australia.
“With the Kando technology, we have been able to identify the pollution sources,” says Paolo Gelli of the HERA Group in Italy. “This created a win-win situation that led to a drastic improvement in performance.”
Kando expects to more than triple its revenue this year compared to 2021 and is currently raising a Series C funding round through OurCrowd, the Jerusalem-based investment platform. The global wastewater treatment market is projected to reach over $462 billion by 2030. The company is looking to expand to more US cities and develop better ways to predict epidemic outbreaks.
Kando wants to see cities worldwide adopt the Israeli model of treating wastewater as a precious resource and gather the data needed by public health officials.
“We deserve to live in the healthiest communities possible, and that includes wastewater. People have forgotten about wastewater,” Engeli says.
Kando is raising an investment round via OurCrowd, the Jerusalem-based platform. For more information, click HERE