On-site septic tank-soil absorption systems treating domestic wastewater have contaminated groundwaters with enteric viruses and other pathogens and caused drinking waterborne outbreaks. The factors influencing pathogen transport, survival and fate at on-site wastewater treatment systems remain inadequately characterised. We studied the survival and transport of a model enterovirus (BE-1) and faecal coliform bacteria in four on-site wastewater treatment systems (three conventional and one low pressure, small pipe diameter, pumped system) located in sandy soils typical of the coastal plains. Septic system wastewaters were seeded seasonally with known amounts of BE-1 and the fate of BE-1, faecal coliforms and other wastewater constituents were followed for three months in seeded wastewaters and groundwaters of drainfield monitoring wells. BE-1 levels in seeded wastewaters declined exponentially by kinetics consistent with a 3d hydraulic residence time. BE-1 was detected in ground waters of monitoring wells as early as 1d after seeding and persisted up to two months. Virus detection in ground water was greater in winter than in summer and was positively associated with proximity to septic effluent distribution lines, drainfield soils with the lowest clay content, elevated ground water pH and shallower vadose zones. Viruses were not strongly associated with either distance from septic tank or faecal coliform levels in groundwater. Under optimum conditions, virus reductions were as high as 9 log10, but in systems with the most coarse (sand) soils and highest water tables (most shallow vadose zones), there was extensive ground water contamination by viruses and other wastewater constituents. Under some conditions, septic systems in sandy coastal plains soils can contaminate ground water with viruses and other wastewater constituents.

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