WASTEWATER TREATMENT & COVID-19: CONSIDERATIONS, IMPACT AND STRATEGIES
Clean, accessible water is a critical part of our everyday lives. The current COVID-19 pandemic is changing not only the way Americans do business; it’s impacting essential services, including wastewater treatment.
Wastewater Treatment Considerations
While there are gaps in available information in the ongoing process of COVID-19 research (due to its novel nature), a significant amount of information is available on infectious human coronaviruses, the group of viruses to which COVID-19 belongs.
Research indicates that coronaviruses may be present in raw wastewater when collected from an area experiencing an active infection within a population. Virus detection has been present in stools and urine from infected individuals 100+ days following initial infection, where 20-40% of those with the virus experienced gastrointestinal symptoms. Additionally, the virus has been reported to survive in hospital wastewater for a period of 2 to 3 days. Wastewater treatment plants, therefore, receiving hospital or other isolation center effluence may find higher concentrations of viruses, including COVID-19.
Risk of Transmission
While the risk of COVID-19 transmission from wastewater is unknown, the risk is believed to be low based on existing data from previous coronavirus outbreaks, including Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). Standard filtration and disinfection based water treatment methods should remove or inactivate the virus that causes COVID-19.
Further data suggests current standard municipal wastewater chlorination practices may also successfully inactivate coronaviruses.
The CDC continues to review all available COVID-19 transmission data. At present, the risk of sewage-based virus transmission is believed “low.” To date, there are no reported cases of wastewater transmission of COVID-19.
COVID-19 Impact on Wastewater Treatment Facilities
The current COVID-19 pandemic surge has seen countless businesses and public spaces close down or limit their offerings to help limit the spread of the coronavirus. Despite shutdown, water and wastewater workers continue to work on the front line, to ensure Californians have wastewater treatment services during a national health crisis.
The impact of COVID-19 on wastewater treatment facilities has extended beyond the ubiquitous calls for social distancing, handwashing and mask-wearing. Many facilities are experiencing widespread impact including
- proactive maintenance delays, focusing instead on reactive maintenance until the pandemic passes;
- Changes or reductions to chemical deliveries,
- budget over limits as a result of a reduction in influent carbon in some tourist-dependent economies is causing an inability to meet discharge permits without the purchase of additional chemicals;
- reduced sludge collection;
- wasting decreases or complete shut-offs to maintain inventory;
- difficulty obtaining necessary PPEs and other protective gear for employees.