CDC Issues Guidance for Water and Wastewater Systems

View CWEA’s round-up of Coronavirus (COVID-19) worker safety information here >

The CDC released this Q&A on water and wastewater system on March 11, 2020. From the CDC…

Can the COVID-19 virus spread through drinking water?

The COVID-19 virus has not been detected in drinking water. Conventional water treatment methods that use filtration and disinfection, such as those in most municipal drinking water systems, should remove or inactivate the virus that causes COVID-19.

Is the COVID-19 virus found in feces?

The virus that causes COVID-19 has been detected in the feces of some patients diagnosed with COVID-19. The amount of virus released from the body (shed) in stool, how long the virus is shed, and whether the virus in stool is infectious are not known.

The risk of transmission of COVID-19 from the feces of an infected person is also unknown. However, the risk is expected to be low based on data from previous outbreaks of related coronaviruses, such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). There have been no reports of fecal-oral transmission of COVID-19 to date.

Can the COVID-19 virus spread through sewerage systems?

CDC is reviewing all data on COVID-19 transmission as information becomes available. At this time, the risk of transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19 through sewerage systems is thought to be low. Although transmission of COVID-19 through sewage may be possible, there is no evidence to date that this has occurred. This guidance will be updated as necessary as new evidence is assessed.

SARS, a similar coronavirus, has been detected in untreated sewage for up to 2 to 14 days. In the 2003 SARS outbreak, there was documented transmission associated with sewage aerosols. Data suggest that standard municipal wastewater system chlorination practices may be sufficient to inactivate coronaviruses, as long as utilities monitor free available chlorine during treatment to ensure it has not been depleted.

Wastewater and sewage workers should use standard practices, practice basic hygiene precautions, and wear personal protective equipment (PPE) as prescribed for current work tasks.

Should wastewater workers take extra precautions to protect themselves from the COVID-19 virus?

Wastewater treatment plant operations should ensure workers follow routine practices to prevent exposure to wastewater. These include using engineering and administrative controls, safe work practices, and PPE normally required for work tasks when handling untreated wastewater. No additional COVID-19–specific protections are recommended for employees involved in wastewater management operations, including those at wastewater treatment facilities.

CDC: Guidance for reducing health risks to workers handling human waste or sewage


5 comments on “CDC Issues Guidance for Water and Wastewater Systems

  1. David Lopez says:

    We have a lot a professional’s that still dont know if it can affect a wastewater worker. All your information says the potential is low. That’s still says we can be expose. What you guys should require is to stop using hydro or power washing temporarily until this passes . We are disturbing a open system and if you dont have facts but only a hunch. We should stop exposing our communities and families. And we believe we need a full on hazmat suit. I’m speaking as a wastewater collection worker in the city of Los Angeles.

    1. Alec Mackie says:

      Thanks for the input David. Our Committees are working on a webinar with coronavirus experts, we’ll get invites out to that webinar as soon as it is scheduled.

  2. Michael Head says:

    I have been asking everyone from local health officials to independent firms across the country to find out if they have any information on the virus in sewage. I have even looked at China where it was reported that it spread through a sanitary waste system in a complex. My question is if the sanitary systems is backed up can the coronavirus spread through an open lateral in a residential and commercial (apartment, nursing homes, hospitals stores and places of work.)environment. How long is it considered contagious in fecile matter, is it possible to contaminate a area by opening up a clean out and clearing the line . Is it safe for the workers who have to go and open the sewer system with minimal ppe or none . Has anyone studied the effects of a high pressure water jetter in the spread. I work with this every day I hope that I am not going to make anyone sick.

  3. Keith Downing says:

    I agree with you guys. I work in collections in Oregon in Washington County where it is spreading exponentially. There is a big difference between sampling at the treatment plants where it has had the chance to cool, mix with lots of household detergents and business effluents over miles of pipes versus right out of the homeowners lateral at 98.6 degrees. This is where a jetter truck operator starts to clean the sanitary lines where it pretty much pulverizes the solids and urine turning it into a fine mist coming out of the manhole. As a fellow technician I know the feeling of the sewer mist and droplets covering your clothing, face and lips when you are standing by the manhole operating the truck. Flipping and holding the hose in drops, crawling the nozzle up slides. Our management says its fine, but they have directed most of our efforts on storm line, catch basin and water quality manhole cleaning. They still send us out on sanitary emergencies but are discussing returning us to routine sani cleaning soon even though the death count and new cases are rising here in Oregon. I dont want to get infected and bring it home or to any of my fellow workers and their families.

  4. Alec Mackie says:

    CWEA hosted a webinar on April 1st with speakers from the CDC, WEF and EBMUD. This link will jump right to the CDC speaker talking about transmission of COVID-19 through wastewater systems…

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