Virus survival in sewage sludge amended desert soil

T. M. Straub, I. L. Pepper, C. P. Gerba

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Currently Pima County, Arizona, disposes all of its anaerobically digested sewage sludge in liquid form (1.5% solids) on agricultural land used for non-food crop production by subsurface injection or surface spreading. Present in these sludges are human enteric viruses in concentrations as high as 1,000 per liter of sludge. These viruses could potentially contaminate surface and groundwater sources during periods of irrigation or extended rainfall. This study was designed to assess the survival of viruses under field conditions typical of the arid Southwestern United States during the winter and summer months. This study was also conducted in the laboratory to simulate field conditions. Soil samples taken from freshly amended fields were seeded with poliovirus type 1 (stock titer = 106/ml) and bacteriophage MS2 (stock titer = 1010/ml) and thoroughly mixed with the sludged soil. The seeded samples were put into containers and buried 10 cm below the soil surface, and samples were taken at pre-determined time intervals. Average soil temperature (measured at the 10 cm depth) ranged from 15°C in the winter to 33°C in the summer. Soil moisture decreased from 25% to 15% in the winter and from 40% to less than 5% in the summer. During the winter study, no inactivation of poliovirus was observed after 7 days, while greater than a 90% reduction was observed for MS-2. During the summer study, no poliovirus was recovered after 7 days, and no MS-2 was recovered after 3 days. The results of this study suggest that high soil temperature and rapid loss of moisture limit the survival of viruses in desert soils.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)421-424
Number of pages4
JournalWater Science and Technology
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - 1993
EventProceedings of the 16th Biennial Conference and Exposition of the International Association on Water Pollution Research and Control - Washington, DC, USA
Duration: May 24 1992May 30 1992


  • Anaerobic sludge digestion
  • Enteric
  • Sewage sludge disposal
  • Viruses

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Water Science and Technology


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