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Combined sewer systems, flooding and COVID-19 - a wake up call

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arno rosemarin - climate adaptation.

Combined sewer systems (CSS) go back to the mid-1800s. And many of our older cities around the world still have these systems installed. They are particularly sensitive to periods of high precipitation and flooding. This is a very brief compendium from 15 minutes of Google searches that should wake up a sleeping world when it comes to this issue - the threat of COVID-19, climate change and the ancient CSS systems under many of our cities. 

Wastewater test could provide early warning of COVID-19

Dysfunctional sewer systems in flooded areas

Concerns raised over sewage spreading virus into rivers

To understand coronavirus transmission, we have to understand our wastewater

A Screening Assessment Of The Potential Impacts Of Climate Change On Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) Mitigation In The Great Lakes And New England Regions (Final Report)

Combined Sewer Systems: Down, Dirty, and Out of Date

Global monitoring of antimicrobial resistance based on metagenomics analyses of urban sewage

The Water Professional’s Guide to COVID-19


In doing this search I also discovered that the sewer systems (incl toilets, pipes and pumps) may experience blockages due to overloading with toilet paper or the use of newspaper and plastic wipes due to toilet paper shortages - all during this time of personal behaviour change.

The trusted sanitation and sewer systems that we rely on every day can therefore act up and become a significant source of COVID inoculum may it be due to overloading, blockage or overflows. If these systems were to be partially and/or temporarily shut down by authorities before a vaccine becomes available, the impacts on further spreading could become debilitating. Urban open defecation in parks could become rampant before onsite pit facilities could be built. Especially the over-urbanised coastal mega-cities will be heavily taxed due to lack of green areas prompting mass evacuation. Hope this just remains a bad nightmare. But the indicators are all there........


Arno Rosemarin PhD
Stockholm Environment Institute
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