Time-variant positive air pressure in drainage stacks as a pathogen transmission pathway of covid-19

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Time-variant positive air pressure in a drainage stack poses a risk of pathogenic virus transmission into a habitable space, however, the excessive risk and its significance have not yet been sufficiently addressed for drainage system designs. This study proposes a novel measure for the probable pathogenic virus transmission risk of a high-rise drainage stack with the occurrence of positive air pressure. The proposed approach is based on time-variant positive air pressures measured in a 38 m high drainage stack of a full-scale experimental tower under steady flow conditions of flow rate 1–4 Ls−1 discharging at a height between 15 m to 33 m above the stack base. The maximum pressure and probabilistic positive air pressures in the discharging stack ventilation section with no water (Zone A of the discharging drainage stack) were determined. It was demonstrated that the positive air pressures were lower in frequency as compared with those in other stack zones and could propagate along the upper 1/3 portion of the ventilation pipe (H’ ≥ 0.63) towards the ventilation opening at the rooftop. As the probabilistic positive pressures at a stack height were found to be related to the water discharging height and flow rate, a risk model of positive air pressure is proposed. Taking the 119th, 124th, 140th and 11,547th COVID-19 cases of an epidemiological investigation in Hong Kong as a baseline of concern, excessive risk of system overuse was evaluated. The results showed that for a 20–80% increase in the frequency of discharge flow rate, the number of floors identified at risk increased from 1 to 9 and 1 to 6 in the 34-and 25-storey residential buildings, respectively. The outcome can apply to facilities planning for self-quarantine arrangements in high-rise buildings where pathogenic virus transmission associated with drainage system overuse is a concern.

Original languageEnglish
Article number6068
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 4 Jun 2021


  • COVID-19
  • Drainage stack
  • Experiment
  • High-rise
  • Pathogen transmission
  • Positive air pressure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pollution
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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