Quantitative SARS-CoV-2 exposure assessment for workers in wastewater treatment plants using Monte-Carlo simulation

Yan, Cheng; Hu, Yi-ning; Gui, Zi-cheng; Lai, Tian-nuo; Ali, Wajid; Wan, Nian-hong; He, Shan-shan; Liu, Sai; Li, Xiang; Jin, Ting-xu; Nasir, Zaheer Ahmad; Garcia Alcega, Sonia and Coulon, Frederic (2024). Quantitative SARS-CoV-2 exposure assessment for workers in wastewater treatment plants using Monte-Carlo simulation. Water Research, 248, article no. 120845.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.watres.2023.120845


Several studies on COVID-19 pandemic have shown that the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) originating from human stool are detected in raw sewage for several days, leading to potential health risks for workers due to the production of bioaerosols and droplets during wastewater treatment process. In this study, data of SARS-CoV-2 concentrations in wastewater were gathered from literatures, and a quantitative microbial risk assessment with Monte Carlo simulation was used to estimate the daily probability of infection risk through exposure to viable infectious viral airborne particles of the workers during four seasons and under six environmental conditions. Inhalation of bioaerosols and direct ingestion of wastewater droplets were selected as exposure pathways. Spearman rank correlation coefficients were used for sensitivity analysis to identify the variables with the greatest influence on the infection risk probability. It was found that the daily probability of infection risk decreased with temperature (T) and relative humidity (RH) increase. The probability of direct droplet ingestion exposure pathway was higher than that of the bioaerosol inhalation pathway. The sensitivity analysis indicated that the most sensitive variable for both exposure pathways was the concentration of SARS-CoV-2 in stool. So, appropriate aeration systems, covering facilities, and effective ventilation are suggested to implement in wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) to reduce emission concentration. Further to this, the exposure time (t) had a larger variance contribution than T and RH for the bioaerosol inhalation pathway. Implementing measures such as adding more work shifts, mandating personal protective equipment for all workers, and implementing coverage for treatment processes can significantly reduce the risk of infection among workers at WWTPs. These measures are particularly effective during environmental conditions with low temperatures and humidity levels.

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