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Tracking SARS-CoV‑2 RNA through the Wastewater Treatment Process

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journal contribution
posted on 07.04.2021, 18:11 by Hala Abu Ali, Karin Yaniv, Edo Bar-Zeev, Sanhita Chaudhury, Marilou Shagan, Satish Lakkakula, Zeev Ronen, Ariel Kushmaro, Oded Nir
Municipal sewage carries degraded and intact viral particles and RNA (ribonucleic acid) of SARS-CoV-2 (severe acute respiratory coronavirus 2), shed by COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) patients, to sewage and eventually to wastewater treatment plants. Proper wastewater treatment can prevent uncontrolled discharges of the virus into the environment. However, the role of different wastewater treatment stages in reducing viral RNA concentrations is, thus far, unknown. Here, we quantified SARS-CoV-2 RNA in raw sewage and during the main stages of the activated sludge process from two wastewater treatment plants in Israel, on three different days during the 2020 COVID-19 outbreak. To reduce the detection limit, samples were concentrated prior to quantification by real-time polymerase chain reaction by a factor of 2–43 using ultrafiltration. On average, ∼1 log RNA removal was attained by each of the primary and secondary treatment steps; however, >100 copies of SARS-CoV-2 RNA/mL remained in the secondary effluents. Following chlorination, SARS-CoV-2 RNA was detected only once, likely due to an insufficient chlorine dose. Our results emphasize the capabilities and limitations of the conventional wastewater treatment process in reducing the SARS-CoV-2 RNA concentration and present preliminary evidence for the importance of tertiary treatment and chlorination in reducing dissemination of the virus to the environment.

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