Virus transport and survival in saturated and unsaturated flow through soil columns

D. K. Powelson, J. R. Simpson, C. P. Gerba

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

91 Scopus citations


Water with entrained disease-causing virus entering soil normally passes through water-saturated and unsaturated regions before reaching the groundwater. The effects of saturated and unsaturated flow on the survival and transport of a virus, MS-2 bacteriophage, were compared. The viruses were added to well water and applied to soil columns 0.052 m in diameter and 1.05 m long. The soil material was Vint loamy fine sand (a sandy, mixed, hyperthermic Typic Torrifluvent) mixed with recent alluvium. Samples of the soil water were taken daily at 0.20, 0.40, and 0.80 m depths through porous stainless steel samplers and at 1.05 m from the percolate leaving the column. For saturated flow the virus concentrations reached the influent concentration in less than two pore volumes (PV). For unsaturated flow the concentrations remained at levels much lower than the influent, ranging from 27% of inflow at 0.20 m (18 PV) to 5% at 1.05 m (3.3 PV). At the end of the experiments soil samples from each depth were assayed to determine virus adsorption to the soil. The average distribution coefficient of the unsaturated columns, 0.27, indicates very little adsorption. The number balance showed that only 39% of the unsaturated flow virus were accounted for. It appears that under unsaturated flow conditions enhanced inactivation of this virus occurs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)396-401
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Environmental Quality
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1990

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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