So far, the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 has not been found in our tap water. There are strict laws in the Netherlands to ensure the microbiological safety of drinking water. Protection against viruses is also taken into account. This is fairly unique worldwide, and also protects us against the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2.
Official swimming locations
The official swimming locations will open on 1 May. So far, there is no evidence that the virus is spreading via water. This has been confirmed by the WHO. However, a swimming location must be able to comply with the currently applicable hygiene rules to prevent the spread of the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. That means that people have to keep 1.5 meters distance from each other and give each other space at the swimming locations.
A protocol has been provided that describes how everyone involved – from the location manager to the recreational users, and from the municipality to the supervisory authorities – can contribute to the implementation of these rules. Information about the protocol will be clearly communicated at the swimming locations. Information on this topic is also available at www.zwemwater.nl (in Dutch). Swimming locations where it is impossible to implement, observe or enforce these rules, or prove unable to do so, will be closed.
Official swimming locations are places designated by the province for swimming in surface water. Water quality at these locations is regularly checked during the swimming season (from 1 May to 1 October). The water quality at official swimming locations must meet the requirements of the European Bathing Water Directive. Unofficial swimming locations do not have a designated status, and water quality is not checked.
There are fountains that are in surface water and fountains that are placed in stone basins on public streets. All fountains produce water spray. The water in fountains may contain pathogens of various origins. Fountains need to be well designed, maintained and managed to ensure good water quality and safe fountains. Research shows that a fountain placed in such a way that the water spray cannot be felt does not pose a health risk.
Even at fountains, the highest risk of transmitting the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 is person-to-person transmission. If you keep enough distance and give others space, and wash your hands regularly with soap and water, the coronavirus cannot spread. If large groups of people are playing at a fountain at the same time, making it impossible to keep enough distance (at least 1.5 m), it is advisable to avoid the fountain.
Risk of Legionella in drinking water
Many different measures have taken effect since the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 emerged in the Netherlands. Many buildings are hardly being used, or not being used at all. As a result, some of the tap water in these buildings has been standing in the pipes for some time. Buildings that are considered ‘priority institutions’, such as hotels, swimming pools and saunas, are required to actively take steps to prevent the growth of Legionella in their pipe systems. Other buildings do not need to take those precautions. That includes gyms, sport clubs, schools and offices. The risk of becoming ill from Legionella bacteria is minimal at these locations. There are tips to limit exposure to Legionella in these buildings.
Genetic material (RNA) from the virus SARS-CoV-2 has also been detected in sewage in the Netherlands. It is still uncertain whether the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 in faeces or in sewage is infectious to humans. There is no evidence yet regarding infection of humans via sewage. In nearly half of all people who have a COVID-19 infection, the genetic material from the virus is found not only in the nose, but also in the faeces, and several COVID-19 patients were found to have the virus present in their urine. Some studies have isolated infectious virus from faeces, but other studies did not succeed in doing so. It is not yet clear whether the virus particles found in sewage could be infectious. It is also unknown how long the virus survives when it ends up in sewage. RIVM is researching this topic.
Most people do not come into contact with sewage. The advice is to follow the hygiene measures at all times. Wash your hands with soap and water after every visit to the toilet, and clean the toilet area regularly.
People who work with sewage should avoid direct contact with the sewage, and should avoid ingesting, swallowing and/or breathing in spray or mist from the water. Sewage always contains many different pathogens. Faecal matter excreted by sick people, but also by people who are not ill at all, always contains all sorts of pathogens that can make others sick if they are transmitted via hands, water or food. These pathogens are discharged into the sewage via the toilet and sewage system. Established protective measures for people working with sewer water offer effective protection against the various types of pathogens in sewage, including coronaviruses. For that reason, people who work with sewage must wear personal protective equipment appropriate to their work. All these protective measures for safe working practices involving wastewater are listed in the occupational health and safety catalogue of the water management authorities (in Dutch).
If you have questions about the Health and Safety Catalogue, please contact your Health and Safety Coordinator. It is also important that employees at the sewage treatment plant follow the hygiene protocols:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water
- Cough and sneeze into your elbow
- Use paper tissues
- Do not shake hands
Well-functioning sewers in houses and buildings
If the sewer system is working properly, people cannot come into contact with faeces or air from the sewers, which could potentially contain virus particles. A well-functioning sewer does not leak and has a venting and aeration system that allows air to escape. It is not necessary to touch the system at all. If you can smell the air from the sewers, this is often an indication that venting and aeration are not working properly. In that case, find out where the sewer smell is coming from and seal it off, or arrange to have it sealed off.
- Make sure that all connections to the building’s sewer system in toilets, kitchens, bathrooms etc. are equipped with well-functioning water traps (also known as a P-trap or siphon). A layer of salad oil on the water in siphons through which no or very little water flows will prevent the water in the water trap from evaporating;
- If the toilet seat is equipped with a lid, flush the toilet with the lid closed to prevent splashing droplets and aerosols from spreading;
- Do not ignore foul odours in the toilet, kitchen or bathroom. This could indicate a sewer leak. Find the cause and resolve the problem, or arrange to have it fixed. A sewer pipe that is no longer connected to anything must be capped and sealed.
Press release by Techniek Nederland (in Dutch): Preventing the spread of SARS-CoV-2 by sewage systems in buildings
Press release from RIONED (in Dutch): Preventing the spread of SARS-CoV-2 by sewage systems in buildings
Frequently asked questions
Is drinking water in the Netherlands safe?
Yes. The coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 has not been found in our tap water. Drinking water quality is monitored continuously, so its safety is guaranteed.
Can I use public drinking water taps?
Yes, you can. Do not touch the tap where the water flows out. Make sure you do not sneeze or cough in the direction of the tap. If possible, turn the water on with clean hands or a clean tissue. These precautions will allow us to minimise the risk of spreading the virus.
Can I sprinkle my ( vegetable ) garden with water from the ditch?
The coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 has been found in untreated sewage in the Netherlands. Unpurified (and purified) sewage can end up in surface water, such as ditch water. When sewage is discharged into surface water, the sewage is diluted in the surface water. This also dilutes the coronavirus, so that fewer virus particles are present per litre. The degree to which the virus is diluted depends on the amount of sewage water and whether or not it has been purified. The degree of dilution will therefore vary depending on the location. It is not yet known if and how long the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 will remain contagious in surface water. Because there are probably few new coronavirus particles in the water due to dilution, the risk of contamination with the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 by spraying with surface water is probably small.
It is not recommended to use surface water, such as ditch water, in the vicinity of sewage discharges for irrigation. This is not only important because of the possible presence of the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, but also because of other pathogens.
When using surface water (not in the vicinity of sewage discharges) for irrigation, it is advisable to ensure that you do not come into contact with water droplets or mist during irrigation. This can be done, for example, by watering the plants close to the ground, instead of letting the water rain down over the plants.