Enhanced decay of coronaviruses in sewers with domestic wastewater

Publication Name

Science of the Total Environment


Recent outbreaks caused by coronaviruses and their supposed potential fecal-oral transmission highlight the need for understanding the survival of infectious coronavirus in domestic sewers. To date, the survivability and decay of coronaviruses were predominately studied using small volumes of wastewater (normally 5–30 mL) in vials (in-vial tests). However, real sewers are more complicated than bulk wastewater (wastewater matrix only), in particular the presence of sewer biofilms and different operational conditions. This study investigated the decay of infectious human coronavirus 229E (HCoV-229E) and feline infectious peritonitis virus (FIPV), two typical surrogate coronaviruses, in laboratory-scale reactors mimicking the gravity (GS, gravity-driven sewers) and rising main sewers (RM, pressurized sewers) with and without sewer biofilms. The in-sewer decay of both coronaviruses was greatly enhanced in comparison to those reported in bulk wastewater through in-vial tests. 99% of HCoV-229E and FIPV decayed within 2 h under either GS or RM conditions with biofilms, in contrast to 6–10 h without biofilms. There is limited difference in the decay of HCoV and FIPV in reactors operated as RM or GS, with the T90 and T99 difference of 7–10 min and 14–20 min, respectively. The decay of both coronaviruses in sewer biofilm reactors can be simulated by biphasic first-order kinetic models, with the first-order rate constant 2–4 times higher during the first phase than the second phase. The decay of infectious HCoV and FIPV was significantly faster in the reactors with sewer biofilms than in the reactors without biofilms, suggesting an enhanced decay of these surrogate viruses due to the presence of biofilms and related processes. The mechanism of biofilms in virus adsorption and potential inactivation remains unclear and requires future investigations. The results indicate that the survivability of infectious coronaviruses detected using bulk wastewater overestimated the infectivity risk of coronavirus during wastewater transportations in sewers or the downstream treatment.

Open Access Status

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Funding Sponsor

Australian Research Council



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