River bank or slow sand filtration is a major procedure for processing surface water to drinking water in central europe. In order to model the performance of river bank and slow sand filtration plants, we are studying the different mechanisms by which the elimination of pathogens is realized. An important question concerning the mode of action of slow sand filters and river bank filtration units is the role of the colmation layer or “schmutzdecke” on the elimination of human pathogens. The schmutzdecke is an organic layer which develops at the surface of the sand filter short after the onset of operation. We have inoculated a pilot plant for slow sand filtration with coliphages and determined their rate of breakthrough and their final elimination. In the first experiment, with a colmation layer still missing, the breakthrough of the coliphages in the 80 cm mighty sandy bed amounted to ca. 40%. In contrast, less than 1% of coliphages escaped from the filter as the same experiment was repeated two months later, when a substantial colmation layer had developed. Our preliminary conclusions are that the colmation layer is extremely efficient in eliminating of viruses.

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