Wastewater must be treated specially to eliminate the novel SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, say Ben-Gurion University of the Negev researchers.

Their study was the first to examine the survivability of the virus via RNA detection in sewage purification plants worldwide.
Their findings, which have not yet undergone peer review, were uploaded to the preprint archive medRxiv.

The scientists say improperly treated wastewater poses a threat of a renewed outbreak. It can affect not only sewage plant workers but also people or animals who come into contact with the water, and could affect crops if treated water is used for agriculture as it in Israel.

The BGU team found ample abundance of the virus’s RNA in samples of sewage collected in April and during the second wave in July. Biological treatment was insufficient to reduce the virus concentration to undetectable levels, the researchers found.

Therefore, they urge wastewater to be further treated to minimize the risk of dissemination and infection. In a couple of instances where wastewater was treated by chlorine, the virus was no longer detectable.

“If we do not want recurring waves of outbreaks, reducing the infection rate may not be enough. Wastewater must be neutralized as well,” said co-lead researcher Oded Nir of the Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research, part of the Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research at BGU.

Prof. Ariel Kushmaro of the Avram and Stella Goldstein-Goren Department of Biotechnology Engineering co-led the study. Additional researchers included Hala Abu Ali, Karin Yaniv, Edo Bar-Zeev, Sanhita Chaudhury, Marilou Shaga, Satish Lakkakula, and Prof. Zeev Ronen.