An Imperative Need for Research on the Role of Environmental Factors in Transmission of Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)

On this blog, we have previously highlighted the recently produced open access Environmental Science and Technology ‘virtual issue’, collating numerous years of research on the fate and behaviour of enveloped viruses in the environment.

This virtual issue includes a current “scientific opinion” (non-peer reviewed) piece by four researchers, Guangbo Qu (Chinese Academy of Sciences), Xiangdong Li (The Hong Kong Polytechnic University), Ligang Hu (Chinese Academy of Sciences), and Guibin Jiang (Chinese Academy of Sciences). The focus of this scientific opinion is on the need for research on the role of environmental factors in transmission of SARS-CoV-2.

Although certainly not a dominant transmission pathway, these authors argue that faecal transmission routes should be considered based on reports of SARS-CoV-2 detection in faecal samples of infected patients. They describe how studies have shown that SARS-CoV can survive in [somewhat synthetic] stool samples for four days. They write that in one study, surrogate coronaviruses were reported to remain infectious in water and sewage for periods of days to weeks. At room temperature, in pure water, or pasteurised settled sewage, these researchers reported that the time required for 2 Log10 (99%) reduction of virus infectivity (for surrogate coronaviruses) was several days.

The authors argue that infected faecal material in wastewater can generate further transmission routes, including through aerosols produced by toilet flushing. They remind us that a contaminated faulty sewage system in a high-rise housing estate was previously linked to a SARS outbreak in Hong Kong.

A further potential transmission route proposed in this opinion article is via airborne dust. Poor air pollution, with high levels of particular matter, occurs frequently in some developing countries, and the potential roles of dust and particulate matter in the transmission (and possible long-range transfer) of SARS-CoV-2 remain uninvestigated.

The concluding message from this opinion piece is that the survival of SARS-CoV-2 in various environmental media, including water, airborne particulate matter, dust, and sewage, under a variety of environmental conditions, warrant systematic investigation.


Qu G, Li X, Hu L and Jiang G (2020) An Imperative Need for Research on the Role of Environmental Factors in Transmission of Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19). Environmental Science & Technology.

Published by Stuart Khan

Professor of Civil & Environmental Engineering, University of New South Wales

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