Virus removal from sewage effluents during saturated and unsaturated flow through soil columns

David K. Powelson, Charles P. Gerba

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

81 Scopus citations


Recharge of sewage effluents may lead to contamination of groundwater with viruses. The goal of this research was to quantify virus removal in representative subsurface transport conditions. Soil column and batch studies were conducted to evaluate how virus type, effluent type and water saturation affect virus adsorption and removal. Three viruses were used: MS2 and PRD1 bacteriophages and poliovirus type 1. In the first column study, secondary- or tertiary-treated sewage containing the viruses percolated through coarse-sand columns under unsaturated conditions. In the second column study, the viruses suspended in secondary-treated sewage percolated through the columns under saturated or unsaturated conditions. A batch adsorption study was conducted to determine equilibrium adsorption of these viruses to the sand. Effluent type had no significant effect on first-order virus removal coefficients or retardation of virus transport. Virus "removal" was considered to be inactivation or irreversible adsorption. Unsaturated conditions resulted in an average removal coefficient (μs = 0.31 h-1) more than three times greater than saturated conditions (μs = 0.095 h-1), a significant difference at the 0.01 level. Poliovirus had a greater retardation coefficient (R = 5.2) than the bacteriophages (MS2, R = 1.4; and PRD1, R = 2.2), a significant difference at the 0.001 level. Column retardations of virus transport were only 0.8-8.0% of that predicted by adsorption coefficients determined from the batch studies. Equations developed in this paper may aid in estimating virus removal during recharge of effluents if the water residence times in ponds, the vadose zone and the aquifer are known.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2175-2181
Number of pages7
JournalWater research
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1994


  • MS2
  • PRD1
  • bacteriophage
  • effluent
  • poliovirus
  • reclamation of water
  • removal
  • retardation
  • sewage
  • soil columns
  • transport
  • virus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Ecological Modeling
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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