Normalisation of SARS-CoV-2 concentrations in wastewater: The use of flow, electrical conductivity and crAssphage

Jeroen Langeveld*, Remy Schilperoort, Leo Heijnen, Goffe Elsinga, Claudia E.M. Schapendonk, Ewout Fanoy, Evelien I.T. de Schepper, Marion P.G. Koopmans, Miranda de Graaf, Gertjan Medema

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

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Over the course of the Corona Virus Disease-19 (COVID-19) pandemic in 2020–2022, monitoring of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 ribonucleic acid (SARS-CoV-2 RNA) in wastewater has rapidly evolved into a supplementary surveillance instrument for public health. Short term trends (2 weeks) are used as a basis for policy and decision making on measures for dealing with the pandemic. Normalisation is required to account for the dilution rate of the domestic wastewater that can strongly vary due to time- and location-dependent sewer inflow of runoff, industrial discharges and extraneous waters. The standard approach in sewage surveillance is normalisation using flow measurements, although flow based normalisation is not effective in case the wastewater volume sampled does not match the wastewater volume produced. In this paper, two alternative normalisation methods, using electrical conductivity and crAssphage have been studied and compared with the standard approach using flow measurements. For this, a total of 1116 24-h flow-proportional samples have been collected between September 2020 and August 2021 at nine monitoring locations. In addition, 221 stool samples have been analysed to determine the daily crAssphage load per person. Results show that, although crAssphage shedding rates per person vary greatly, on a population-level crAssphage loads per person per day were constant over time and similar for all catchments. Consequently, crAssphage can be used as a quantitative biomarker for populations above 5595 persons. Electrical conductivity is particularly suitable to determine dilution rates relative to dry weather flow concentrations. The overall conclusion is that flow normalisation is necessary to reliably determine short-term trends in virus circulation, and can be enhanced using crAssphage and/or electrical conductivity measurement as a quality check.

Original languageEnglish
Article number161196
Number of pages12
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • COVID-19
  • Normalisation
  • Public health
  • Sewage surveillance


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