Detection of SARS-CoV-2 in urban stormwater: An environmental reservoir and potential interface between human and animal sources

Sci Total Environ. 2022 Feb 10;807(Pt 3):151046. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2021.151046. Epub 2021 Oct 18.


While wastewater has been found to harbor SARS-CoV-2, the persistence of SARSCoV-2 in stormwater and potential transmission is poorly understood. It is plausible that the virus is detectable in stormwater samples where human-originated fecal contamination may have occurred from sources like sanitary sewer overflows, leaky wastewater pipes, and non-human animal waste. Because of these potential contamination pathways, it is possible that stormwater could serve as an environmental reservoir and transmission pathway for SARS-CoV-2. The objectives of this study are: 1) determine whether the presence of SARS-CoV-2 could be detected in stormwater via RT-ddPCR (reverse transcription-digital droplet PCR); 2) quantify human-specific fecal contamination using microbial source tracking; and 3) examine whether rainfall characteristics influence virus concentrations. To accomplish these objectives, we investigated whether SARS-CoV-2 could be detected from 10 storm sewer outfalls each draining a single, dominant land use in Columbus, Xenia, and Springboro, Ohio. Of the 25 samples collected in 2020, at minimum one SARS-CoV-2 target gene (N2 [US-CDC and CN-CDC], and E) was detected in 22 samples (88%). A single significant correlation (p = 0.001), between antecedent dry period and the USCDC N2 gene, was found between target gene concentrations and rainfall characteristics. Grouped by city, two significant relationships emerged showing cities had different levels of the SARS-CoV-2 E gene. Given the differences in scale, the county-level COVID-19 confirmed cases COVID-19 rates were not significantly correlated with stormwater outfall-scale SARS-CoV-2 gene concentrations. Countywide COVID-19 data did not accurately portray neighborhood-scale confirmed COVID-19 case rates. Potential hazards may arise when human fecal contamination is present in stormwater and facilitates future investigation on the threat of viral outbreaks via surfaces waters where fecal contamination may have occurred. Future studies should investigate whether humans are able to contract SARS-CoV-2 from surface waters and the factors that may affect viral longevity and transmission.

Keywords: COVID-19; Coronavirus; Microbial source tracking; One Health; Urban runoff.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • COVID-19*
  • Cities
  • Humans
  • SARS-CoV-2*
  • Wastewater
  • Water Pollution


  • Waste Water