Could rivers be carrying coronavirus from sewage works?

“Coronaviruses have been recovered in faeces and have been shown to be infectious from wastewater,” said Andrew Singer, senior scientist at the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology. But it is “uncertain whether the virus can survive and infect after many hours, which is what would be needed for the wastewater to enter the environment”, he told ENDS.

Water companies regularly discharge both treated and untreated sewage into rivers, streams and coastal waters. In 2018, the last year for which there is comprehensive Environment Agency data, raw sewage was dumped into England’s rivers and seas at least 147,000 times.

According to Singer, sewage cleaned and treated by standard processes would damage the virus making it non-infectious, but added that this could take “hours or longer”. “The primary risk is that people are exposed to the virus,” says Singer, adding that “as people are self-isolating, this is probably a low risk”. 

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