Aerosol and bioaerosol particle size and dynamics from defective sanitary plumbing systems

Michael Gormley, Thomas J. Aspray, David A. Kelly

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)
103 Downloads (Pure)


Aerosols are readily transported on airstreams through building sanitary plumbing and sewer systems, and those containing microbial pathogens (known as bioaerosols) are recognized as contributors to infection spread within buildings. When a defect occurs in the sanitary plumbing system that affects the system integrity, a cross‐transmission route is created that can enable the emission of bioaerosols from the system into the building. These emission occurrences are characterized as short‐burst events (typically <1 min in duration) which make them difficult to detect and predict. The characterization of these emission events is the focus of this research. Two methods were used to characterize bioaerosol emission events in a full‐scale test rig: (a) an Aerodynamic Particle Sizer (APS) for particle size distribution and concentrations; and (b) a slit‐to‐agar sampler to enumerate the ingress of a viable tracer microorganism (Pseudomonas putida). The APS data confirmed that most particles (>99.5%) were <5 μm and were therefore considered aerosols. Particles generated within the sanitary plumbing system as a result of a toilet flush leads to emissions into the building during system defect conditions with an equivalence of someone talking loudly for over 6 and a half minutes. There were no particles detected of a size >11 μm anywhere in the system. Particle count was influenced by toilet flush volume, but it was not possible to determine if there was any direct influence from airflow rate since both particle and biological data showed no correlation with upward airflow rates and velocities. Typical emissions resulting from a 6 L toilet flush were in the range of 280–400 particles per second at a concentration of typically 9–12 number per cm3 and a total particle count in the region of 3000 to 4000 particles, whereas the peak emissions from a 1.2 L toilet flush were 60–80 particles per second at a concentration of 2.4–3 number per cm3 and a total particle count in the region of 886 to 1045 particles. The reduction in particles is in direct proportion to the reduction in toilet flush volume. The slit‐to‐agar sampler was able to provide viable time course CFU data and confirmed the origin of the particles to be the tracer microorganism flushed into the system. The time course data also have characteristics consistent with the unsteady nature of a toilet flush.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1427-1440
Number of pages14
JournalIndoor Air
Issue number5
Early online date10 Feb 2021
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2021


  • COVID-19
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • aerodynamic particle sizing
  • aerosols
  • bioaerosols
  • slit-to-agar sampling
  • toilet flush
  • transient fluid flow
  • wastewater

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Building and Construction
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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