- Viral transport in deep-bed sand filters was studied by a new method that enables rapid and simple quantitation of labeled viruses. The residence time distribution (RTD) of viruses in the bed was compared to the RTD of a fluorescein dye under conditions that simulate a filter run. The characteristics of the RTD curves for the free dye and the labeled bacteriophages followed very different trends during the filter run. While the retention time of free dye was practically independent of the filtration stage, the average retention time of the labeled bacteriophage depended in a non-linear way on filtration time. Average virus retention time as well as virus-removal efficiency were minimal at the ripening stage, increased during the operational stage and then decreased again towards the turbidity breakthrough stage. This complex trend reflects two opposing mechanisms that dominate the behavior of the filter. During the ripening stage the accumulation of the kaolin–alum material in the filter increases the adsorption surface area and retards virus mobility. After sufficient kaolin–alum deposit is accumulated in the filter, aging and densification of the alum deposit induces size exclusion phenomenon giving faster apparent mobility of viruses in the filter bed.