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VERIFY: It’s unlikely to get COVID-19 from wastewater

The VERIFY team spoke to the experts to see how high the risks are.

Several tests have found COVID-19 in wastewater near places with a high community spread, but we asked the experts about the risks of getting infected this way. 

THE QUESTION

Can you get COVID-19 from wastewater?

THE ANSWER

The chances are low, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Environmental Protection Agency are following this issue closely, as there has been evidence found of COVID-19 in wastewater. 

WHAT WE FOUND

After we found several wastewater tests and studies being performed locally and internationally, the VERIFY team asked the CDC and EPA about it. 

A spokesperson from the CDC told us that while the virus has been found in untreated wastewater, the agency can’t confirm whether COVID-19 can cause disease if a person is exposed to it or not.

“Researchers have analyzed the available information which suggests that standard municipal and individual septic system wastewater treatment practices should inactivate the virus that causes COVID-19. CDC is reviewing information on COVID-19 transmission as it becomes available, and guidance will be updated as new evidence is assessed,” the spokesperson explained. 

The EPA told us over email that existing mechanisms in place protect the public from the possibility of untreated wastewater affecting recreational beaches. “These precautions protect public health from pathogens and are expected to be effective in protecting the public from COVID-19,” the representative said. 

The World Health Organization in its most recent water sanitation guidelines explained that there’s no evidence that COVID-19 has been transmitted via sewerage systems, but “as viral fragments have been found in excreta and because of other potential infectious disease risks from excreta, wastewater should be treated in well-designed and well-managed centralized wastewater treatment works.”

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