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Is COVID-19 virus present in water?

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In a series of posts, Riverkeeper compiles the available information – and unanswered questions – on the possible risks the COVID-19 virus may pose via sewage-contaminated water.

New York is at the center of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s urgent that we stay focused on preventing transmission through the known routes – interpersonal contact and contact with surfaces contaminated with the COVID-19 virus.

At the same time, Riverkeeper is actively studying the available information on the risks the COVID-19 virus may pose to individuals or communities via sewage-contaminated water. Riverkeeper recognizes that our organization is not expert in epidemiology or infectious diseases. Click the links below to explore this topic.

This collection of posts will be updated as relevant new information arises. The content below is updated as of April 10, 2020.

Q. Is the COVID-19 virus present in water?

A. The COVID-19 virus is a pathogen that may be present in water affected by sewage, such as the Hudson River, its tributaries, and other waterways around New York City.

The COVID-19 virus is one of several known coronaviruses.

The RNA of the COVID-19 virus has been detected in human feces and sewage, which could indicate the presence of either nonviable virus, or virus that remains infectious. It isn’t known if the COVID-19 virus remains infectious in sewage, or in the water or air influenced by sewage.

Other coronaviruses have been transmitted via aerosols in sewage treatment plants, and remain transmittable in lake water studied in lab settings. The degree to which these other coronaviruses can persist and potentially remain infectious in open waters is dependent on temperature and a number of other factors, but there is evidence that under some conditions, they may persist for several days or even weeks. Dilution and other factors are likely to reduce the risk posed by exposure to water.

Globally, there is need for additional research on COVID-19 virus and its interactions with both sewage and water. These include defining whether the virus can remain infectious in sewage or water at concentrations that present a risk, and whether various disinfection processes are specifically effective against the COVID-19 virus. In the Hudson River Watershed, it is important to understand whether the infectious virus is present at concentrations that present a risk – particularly in waters affected by sewage effluent that lacks disinfection, combined sewer overflows, contaminated sediment, aerosols, or other sources.

Riverkeeper and our science partners are seeking funding for efforts that would contribute to the emerging science of COVID-19 and its potential to affect water quality. (To donate, click here.)

Bottom line: While any potential exposure risk is likely to be substantially lower than for other modes of transmission (such as interpersonal contact), the available evidence suggests a potential risk of exposure to COVID-19 virus in sewage-contaminated water.

More:

Is recreation along the Hudson still safe? Assessing the risk from the COVID-19 virus

Will Riverkeeper gather water quality data during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Can better water infrastructure help protect public health amid virus outbreaks?

Can disinfection in sewage treatment help protect against COVID-19 risks?

Is public drinking water at risk from the COVID-19 virus?

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