“The reason we monitor for E. coli is because it’s a very good indication of fecal contamination in the water so literally it’s poop on the water if you see high rates of E. coli,” said Madhura Sundararajan, an epidemiologist at Indiana State Department of Health. Chicago Tribune
Escherichia coli, also known as E. coli, is a type of fecal coliform bacteria. They are commonly found in the lower intestine of warm-blooded organisms. High levels of E. coli in water have resulted in the closures of beaches, lakes and ponds. Sometimes, the closure order is too late. People are already hospitalized due to contact or accidental ingestion of E.coli in the water. They suffer stomach cramps, diarrhea, vomiting, fever and dehydration. For others, it could be fatal.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) develops criteria for limiting microbial organisms such as E. coli in water bodies to protect human health. Pathogens are the number one cause of impairment in assessed rivers and streams. E. coli ranks first among these pathogens, impairing over 100,000 miles of surface water systems.
State environmental agencies evaluate and manage recreational waters based on EPA criteria. With the assistance of the EPA, states develop total maximum daily loads (TMDLs) to achieve their water quality standards. Municipalities monitor surface waters for fecal contamination. Local health personnel regularly sample the waters and test them for the presence of bacteria. When E. coli contamination levels are high, municipalities must act fast to prevent people from getting sick and to prevent adverse effects on local business.
How to get rid of E. coli in water
Leaking sewer lines, failed septic systems, livestock manure, and wildlife are among the sources of E. coli in water. Ocular inspections along the shoreline can sometimes address the problem but it’s not absolute. It is easy to find solutions for point sources where there’s a clear path of pollution. However, eliminating or minimizing fecal contamination is difficult when the source of E. coli in water is unknown. Multiple suspects could also come into play.
Meanwhile, regulatory bodies impose fines and penalties when E. coli contamination remains unabated. The public also demands quick solutions. The mounting pressure could result in the implementation of remediation plans that do not really address the pollution source. Stakeholders could spend millions of dollars in infrastructure projects when low-cost measures would have sufficed.
The EPA identified microbial source tracking (MST) as a helpful tool in detecting bacteria sources. MST supplements routine E. coli testing. Local laboratories send E. coli-contaminated water samples to an MST lab for further analysis. Source Molecular offers genetic testing services that identify fecal bacteria sources. It has tests for 13 different host sources.
The Back and Spa Creek watersheds in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, experienced high levels of enterococci bacteria, particularly in two sampling sites. The water near Chesapeake Children’s Museum and South Cherry Grove Avenue had an overabundance of enterococcus when it was sampled in June and July 2016.
Because Bozeman Creek serves as a drinking water source for the City of Bozeman, people were naturally alarmed over the high bacteria levels. Some residents even got involved in the water sampling. The presence of E. coli in water indicates fecal contamination, which means there is a possibility that pathogenic microorganisms are also present.
“Overall, the information is telling us Bozeman Creek is definitely showing the impacts of being an urban waterway,” said Tammy Swinney, manager of the Gallatin Local Water Quality District. Bozeman Daily Chronicle
Bozeman Creek runs through an urban area. While it is mostly flanked by parks and open spaces, there are also many parts of the creek are adjacent to homes with aging septic systems. That is why the suspected culprits of the E. coli contamination are humans and dogs. The District wanted to know the sources of fecal contamination to Bozeman Creek. The District tapped Source Molecular Corporation to provide microbial source tracking analysis.
In their November 2015 Report, the District related that downstream sites had higher E. coli concentrations suggesting it might be caused the presence of high-density septic systems. MST results showed that relative qualitative contribution levels of human-sourced fecal contamination generally correlate with E. coli concentrations.
Based on the findings, the District believes further sampling efforts should be conducted and additional human biomarkers should be used to increase confidence in the identification of humans as a contributor to fecal contamination.
The Township of Georgian Bay in Ontario, Canada wanted to confirm concerns of potential septic contamination in developed areas of Honey Harbour. David Sweetnam, executive director at Georgian Bay Forever, noted that while E. coli is used as a surrogate measure of fecal contamination, it does not measure the presence of human pathogens.
Georgian Bay Forever, a charity that protects Georgian Bay’s aquatic ecosystem, used microbial source tracking to find the sources of the fecal contamination in Honey Harbour. Source Molecular conducted MST analysis for the group and reported that no Human, Dog or Bird DNA was detectable in any of the samples collected.
Source Molecular suggested that a DNA-based test for general fecal bacteria instead of E.coli might help find out whether there is a lot or a little fecal bacteria DNA in the environment. If there is a lot, then maybe some source other than human, dog or bird sources might be the contributing load.
Mr. Sweetham noted that they may apply MST again in future testing to help them identify the source of potential microbial contamination. “This technique is evolving rapidly and costs are declining for laboratory services as well as in field equipment.”
Find E. coli Sources Now
Know the source of the E. coli contaminating your waters today!