Publication of the diagnosis by international experts on the coronavirus in wastewaters led by the University of Salerno and the ICRA

The study Coronavirus in water media: Analysis, fate, disinfection and epidemiological applications, led by Vincenzo Naddeo, of the University of Salerno, and Damià Barceló, the director of the Catalan Institute for Water Research (ICRA), which deals with the analysis and surveillance of SARS-CoV-2 in aqueous media, has just been published in the international magazine Journal of Hazardous Materials, drawn up by a team comprising nine researchers, six university centres and six States (Italy, Spain, the Philippines, Korea, the United Arab Emirates and the USA). Owing to the great amount of attention aroused by this topic, the researchers submit to rigorous scrutiny some three hundred works from around the world which examine the fate of coronaviruses (CoVs) in water systems.

One of the most notable final conclusions is this: “The samples (e.g. representative place, types of samples, storage of samples) and the processes (e.g. concentration and quantification methods) affect the measure of concentration of coronaviruses, including SARS-CoV-2, in wastewaters. This is necessary to exploit and implement the significant potential of WBE (Wastewater-Based-Epidemiology) as an effective surveillance tool. It is recommended to carry out 24 hours of permanent sampling and repeated analyses to achieve solid and consistent results.”

In this context, Damià Barceló states that “The European Commission has started up a Surveillance Programme of Covid-19 in wastewaters with the Member States which carry it out and establish comparisons with the health data, which we are already doing in Catalonia and of which the Commission was unaware.” Barceló points out that “It has expressed great interest in knowing how we have been doing this in Catalonia for over a year.”

The experts’ diagnosis particularly questions the methods for determining viable particles of the virus and the quantification of CoVs and, in particular, of SARS-CoV-2 in drinking water and wastewaters in regard to the debate on the methods of concentration and the emerging detection methods. The analysis of the environmental stability of CoVs, with special attention to SARS-CoV-2, and the effectiveness of the disinfection methods, are examined in depth. The result is a global overview of the situation, circumscribing the bases for a debate and subsequent analysis of the risk associated with the presence of SARS-CoV-2 in aqueous media.

The examined data indicate that the detection of the virus in wastewaters and in natural water provides a potentially very valuable tool for appreciating the quantitative microbiological risk (QMRA) and for wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) with the aim of evaluating the levels of circulation of the virus among the population. The tests on viable virions in aqueous media provide information on their integrity, capacity of replication (in appropriate host species) and their potential infectivity. This study presents and examines the challenges and the relevant critical problems in regard to the detection of the coronavirus in different water matrices with both direct and substitutive methods, along with the implementation of epidemiological tools.

The Netherlands, Australia, Finland, France, Italy, Portugal and Spain have initiated wastewater control programmes. Public and private efforts have been pooled to monitor the presence of the virus in wastewaters, in Italy, particularly affected by Covid-19, and in the Netherlands, which is monitoring the control of more than 300 wastewater treatment plants, especially as an epidemiological indicator of the spread of the virus.

The final conclusions also emphasise:

1. The excessive use of disinfectants is associated with problems of environmental and human health, and therefore for the disinfection of SARS-CoV-2 conventional doses of the habitual disinfectants are recommended for the sanitisation and treatment of wastewaters.

2. The progress achieved during this pandemic within the WBE monitoring process can be extended to other applications, for example to the monitoring of pathologies such as diabetes, obesity and hypertension.

3. Detailed knowledge of the behaviour of the virus in the environment can be implemented within a precise informative model which can also use data based on the WBE. This model can help to develop the necessary practical technological and political approaches to mitigate the consequences on public health and the economy caused by the current epidemics of the virus or other potential outbreaks.

The international study Coronavirus in water media: Analysis, fate, disinfection and epidemiological applications is signed by Vincenzo Naddeo, of the University of Salerno, and Damià Barceló, the Director of ICRA, along with Antonio Buonerba (University of Salerno, Italy), Mary Vermi Aizza Corpuz (University Centre for Prevision and Prevention of Large-Scale Risks, C.U.G.RI. University of Salerno - Federico II University of Naples), Florencio Ballesteros (University of the Philippines), Kwang-Ho Choo (Kyungpook National University, Korea), Shadi W. Hasan (Khalifa University of Science and Technology, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates), Gregory V. Korshin (University of Washington) and Vincenzo Belgiorno (University of Salerno, Italy).

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