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J Environ Qual. 2003 May-Jun;32(3):816-23.

Virus retention and transport as influenced by different forms of soil organic matter.

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Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, Univ. of Delaware, Newark, DE 19717-1303, USA.


Organic materials are widespread in natural soil and aquatic environments. Their effect on virus transport is very important in assessing the risk for contamination of ground water by viruses. This study aimed to determine how different forms (mineral-associated and dissolved) of natural organic matter influence the retention and transport of two bacteriophages (MS-2 and phiX174) in two porous media (a sand and a soil). We found that mineral-associated organic matter significantly promoted the transport of one virus (MS-2) but not the other (phiX174) in a phosphate-buffered saline solution. Similarly, MS-2 was retained less in sand columns with increasing concentrations of dissolved humic acid, while little effect was observed for phiX174 under the same conditions. The two viruses have different surface properties and thus exhibited different reactivity to the metal oxides present on sand particles and were affected differently by organic matter. Because the organic matter used in the study was negatively charged and hydrophilic, blocking of virus sorption sites and increasing of virus-medium electrostatic repulsion arising from modification of the sand and virus surface by organic matter are probably responsible for the facilitated transport. For dissolved humic acid, its competition for sorption sites with viruses was an additional mechanism involved. This study suggests that the effect of organic matter varied depending on the organic material properties and the type of viruses involved. As a general trend, the effect of organic matter was dominated by electrostatic rather than hydrophobic interactions.

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