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A valid perspective on the risk of waterborne enteric virus infections related to land disposal of sludge must incorporate various parameters. It is not enough to accept at face value the predominantly negative findings from the relatively few scientific studies that have purportedly been done to determine the fate of viruses introduced into the environment with the deposition of sludge. Rather, it is incumbent upon interested parties, whether they are regulatory or scientific, to evaluate the whole through a careful examination of the parts. This paper attempts to bring into focus the presently available data on four major virological issues. These are the characteristics of enteric viruses which enable them to survive wastewater treatment processes, problems associated with the accumulation and interpretation of data related to viral contamination of groundwater by sludge disposal practices, problems associated with transfer to the real world of data derived from laboratory-seeded experiments, and problems related to the establishment of the role of enteric viruses in waterborne disease outbreaks. Present data are insufficient for establishing the quantitative risk of waterborne disease because of the land disposal of sludge. However, there is some probability of groundwater contamination sufficient to warrant a cautious approach to land disposal of sludge.
enteric viruses, land disposal, sludge, risk, public health
Research director, Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services, Epidemiology Research Center, Tampa, FL