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Environmental Health - Toxic Substances


U.S. Geological Survey Toxic Substances Hydrology Program--Proceedings of the Technical Meeting Charleston South Carolina March 8-12,1999--Volume 3 of 3--Subsurface Contamination From Point Sources, Water-Resources Investigations Report 99-4018C

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Dual Radioisotope Labeling to Monitor Virus Transport and Identify Factors Affecting Viral Inactivation in Contaminated Aquifer Sediments from Cape Cod, Massachusetts

By David W. Metge, Theresa Navigato, Jon E. Larson, Joseph N. Ryan, and Ronald W. Harvey


The in-situ mobility of bacteriophage PRD-1, whose DNA was labeled with 32P nucleotides and protein coat was labeled with 35S methionine, was tested using small-scale (1-4 meter) injection and recovery experiments. The isotope-labeled virus and a conservative (bromide) tracer were injected into shallow (uncontaminated) and deep (treated-sewage-contaminated) sandy aquifer sediments within an unconfined glacial outwash aquifer on Cape Cod, Mass. This contaminated aquifer has sharp pH and chemical gradients and sediment heterogeneities, which influence the transport properties of microorganisms (0.05-5.0 micrometers [µm]).

In the presence of treated-sewage contaminants and the common household surfactant SDBS (sodium dodecyl benzene sulfonate), concentration histories of dual-labeled phage exhibited much different transport behavior than was observed in an earlier field experiment using a different surfactant. Peak breakthroughs of infective virus were 1 to 2 orders of magnitude greater than the earlier experiment. Also, there was little or no breakthrough of radiolabel in the absence of infective virus. This was in direct contrast to results from the earlier experiment where greater than 98% of the observed breakthrough was as noninfective virus. It is hypothesized that virus infectivity may be due to virus-sediment binding interactions.

Although virus transport properties differ somewhat from those observed for groundwater microbial populations, dual-isotope-labeled infective virus were detected several meters downgradient. The high degree of infective virus transport in the presence of environmentally relevant concentrations of SDBS suggests that this surfactant may help protect against virus inactivation and promote subsurface transport by reducing virus binding to sediment surfaces. Presence of surfactants appears to have implications in the degree of risk associated with viral pathogen transport and in the setback distances for public water supply wells close to sources of sewage contamination.

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