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First surveillance of SARS-CoV-2 and organic tracers in community wastewater during post lockdown in Chennai, South India: Methods, occurrence and concurrence

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

  • P. Chakraborty
  • M. Pasupuleti
  • M.R. Jai Shankar
  • G.K. Bharat
  • S. Krishnasamy
  • S.C. Dasgupta
  • S.K. Sarkar
  • K.C. Jones
Article number146252
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>15/07/2021
<mark>Journal</mark>Science of the Total Environment
Number of pages10
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date6/03/21
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Surveillance of SARS-CoV-2 and organic tracers (OTs) were conducted in the community wastewater of Chennai city and the suburbs, South India, during partial and post lockdown phases (August–September 2020) as a response to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. Wastewater samples were collected from four sewage treatment plants (STPs), five sewage pumping stations (SPSs) and at different time intervals from a suburban hospital wastewater (HWW). Four different methods of wastewater concentrations viz., composite (COM), supernatant (SUP), sediment (SED), and syringe filtration (SYR) were subjected to quantitative real time-polymerase chain reaction (qRT-PCR). Unlike HWW, STP inlet, sludge and SPS samples were found with higher loading of SARS-CoV-2 by SED followed by SUP method. Given the higher levels of dissolved and suspended solids in STPs and SPSs over HWW, we suspect that this enveloped virus might exhibit the tendency of higher partitioning in solid phase. Cycle threshold (Ct) values were < 30 in 50% of the HWW samples indicating higher viral load from the COVID-19 infected patients. In the STP outlets, a strict decline of biochemical oxygen demand, >95% removal of caffeine, and absence of viral copies reflect the efficiency of the treatment plants in Chennai city. Among the detected OTs, a combination of maximum dynamic range and high concurrence percentage was observed for caffeine and N1 gene of SARS-CoV-2. Hence, we suggest that caffeine can be used as an indicator for the removal of SARS-CoV-2 by STPs. Our predicted estimated number of cases are in line with the available clinical data from the catchments. Densely distributed population of the Koyambedu catchment could be partly responsible for the high proportion of estimated infected individuals during the study period.