BATAVIA — The county Health Department wants to hire a company to test wastewater systems in Batavia and Le Roy for the presence of opioids. County legislators want to have more discussion on the proposal before voting on it.
The Health Department proposes using $1,000 monthly per site to have Biobot Analytics Inc. of Cambridge, Mass., provide wastewater lab services for the department. The money would come from opioid settlement funds.
County Manager Matt Landers said Public Health Director Paul Pettit is anxious to make a contract with Biobot a reality.
“Two of the sites would be in Genesee County (in Batavia and Le Roy),” Landers said. “This went before the opioid work group and it was unanimous by that work group to support funding this operation.”
Landers said there would be six sites between Genesee and Orleans counties, with four being in Orleans.
“We’re paying for our two. Orleans would be paying directly for their four,” he said.
The Ways and Means Committee Wednesday referred the proposed contract back to the Human Services Committee.
Committee member Gary Maha said he wishes testing could be done at more than the two sites. He asked now much in opioid settlement funds there is for Genesee County.
County Attorney James Wujcik said as of today, the county has about $373,000.
Legislature Chairwoman Rochelle Stein said if analysis for opioids is going to be done, it should be done at all the wastewater systems in the county.
“If you’re looking at just the population of Batavia and Le Roy, I think we miss a whole lot of other people,” she said.
Ways and Means Chairwoman Marianne Clattenburg asked what the monitoring would be used for.
“There will be a discussion at the next Opioid Task Force (meeting) ... where the Sheriff’s Office is interested in having a part-time analyst position partially funded through that to help analyze the information,” Landers said. “Right now, the Health Department is going to be using this information for planning on their opioid work group ... information to understand where there are troubling signs of opioid addiction in the community.”
Programs and education efforts could then be targeted appropriately, he said.
Clattenburg said monitoring in two places makes it sound like it’s already been determined where opioid problems are and that now data are needed to back that up.
“As far as what opioids specifically, which strands, which variants, I’m not a scientist, so I don’t know what they do to analyze it,” Landers said. He said analysts may be able to tell whether there are new kinds of opioids out there. He said he doesn’t know how specific the analysts and scientists can be about where those opioids came from.
The issue was something the opioid work group and county Human Services Committee have discussed, as have Pettit, GCASA Executive Director John Bennett and Mental Health & Community Services Director Lynda Battaglia.
“We already screened for COVID and other things like that that come through the wastewater, but this would be allowing us to have additional information in our community of how impactful opioids are,” he said, noting there is currently no wastewater testing for opioids. “We heard of how some of the data we get isn’t always complete as far as fatalities and it depends on how it’s reported. This is very scientific, tell us how prevalent it is in our community ...”
Clattenburg said $1,000 a month to analyze two sites is a lot of money for data that says there is an opioid problem.
“Don’t we know by now how many people are in beds at GCASA and other places, and how many people are arrested? Don’t we know we have an opioid problem?” she asked.
Landers said the county may not know whether opioid use is spiking or how bad it’s getting.
“These are some of the questions I was asking our public health director, who said, ‘No problem. It went through Human Services, so we should just be able to bring this forward,’” Landers said.
The county manager suggested moving this proposal back into the Human Services Committee so Pettit can answer these questions. He said the Health Department wants data so it can see, when it’s putting a program or initiative in place, how the impact is and is it effective?
“They want to be able to see, what was the level of fentanyl in our community and what was the level of fentanyl three years later, four years later, five years later,” Landers said. “We do have funds available from the opioid settlements that stream out for more than a decade. There is going to be funding opportunities for this.”
If the county is going to use opioid settlement money, why not use it where it will have the most impact, Clattenburg said, saying education is where she’d like to see the settlement money go.
“I just don’t know if measuring what’s in the wastewater in two towns is going to do that,” she said.