SARS-Cov-2RNA found on particulate matter of Bergamo in Northern Italy: First evidence

Environ Res. 2020 Sep;188:109754. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2020.109754. Epub 2020 May 30.


Background: The burden of COVID-19 was extremely severe in Northern Italy, an area characterized by high concentrations of particulate matter (PM), which is known to negatively affect human health. Consistently with evidence already available for other viruses, we initially hypothesized the possibility of SARS-CoV-2 presence on PM, and we performed a first experiment specifically aimed at confirming or excluding this research hyphotesys.

Methods: We have collected 34 PM10 samples in Bergamo area (the epicenter of the Italian COVID-19 epidemic) by using two air samplers over a continuous 3-weeks period. Filters were properly stored and underwent RNA extraction and amplification according to WHO protocols in two parallel blind analyses performed by two different authorized laboratories. Up to three highly specific molecular marker genes (E, N, and RdRP) were used to test the presence of SARS-CoV-2 RNA on particulate matter.

Results: The first test showed positive results for gene E in 15 out of 16 samples, simultaneously displaying positivity also for RdRP gene in 4 samples. The second blind test got 5 additional positive results for at least one of the three marker genes. Overall, we tested 34 RNA extractions for the E, N and RdRP genes, reporting 20 positive results for at least one of the three marker genes, with positivity separately confirmed for all the three markers. Control tests to exclude false positivities were successfully accomplished.

Conclusion: This is the first evidence that SARS-CoV-2 RNA can be present on PM, thus suggesting a possible use as indicator of epidemic recurrence.

Keywords: Air pollution; COVID-19; Particulate matter; SARS-CoV-2.

MeSH terms

  • Betacoronavirus* / genetics
  • COVID-19
  • Coronavirus Infections*
  • Humans
  • Italy
  • Pandemics*
  • Particulate Matter
  • Pneumonia, Viral*
  • RNA, Viral / genetics
  • SARS-CoV-2


  • Particulate Matter
  • RNA, Viral