Fecal Coliform and water quality

Total coliform bacteria are a collection of relatively harmless microorganisms that live in large numbers in the intestines of man and warm- and cold-blooded animals. They aid in the digestion of food. A specific subgroup of this collection is the fecal coliform bacteria, the most common member being Escherichia coli. These organisms may be separated from the total coliform group by their ability to grow at elevated temperatures, and are associated only with the fecal material of warm-blooded animals.

Methodology: Membrane filtration is the method of choice for the analysis of fecal coliforms in water. Samples to be tested are passed through a membrane filter of particular pore size (generally 0.45 micron). The microorganisms present in the water remain on the filter surface while the water passes freely through the filter. When the filter is placed in a sterile petri dish and saturated with an appropriate medium, growth of the desired organisms is encouraged, while that of other organisms is suppressed. Each cell develops into a discrete colony which can be counted directly and the results calculated as microbial density. Sample volumes of 1 ml and 10 ml will be used for the ambient water testing, with the goal of achieving a final desirable colony density range of 20-60 colonies/filter. Excessively contaminated sources may require dilution to achieve a "countable" membrane.

Environmental Impact: The presence of fecal coliform bacteria in aquatic environments indicates that the water has been contaminated with the fecal material of man or other animals. At the time this occurred, the source water may have been contaminated by pathogens or disease producing bacteria or viruses which can also exist in fecal material. Some waterborne pathogenic diseases include typhoid fever, viral and bacterial gastroenteritis and hepatitis A. The presence of fecal contamination is an indicator that a potential health risk exists for individuals exposed to this water. Fecal coliform bacteria may occur in ambient water as a result of the overflow of domestic sewage or nonpoint sources of human and animal waste.

Criteria: The criteria for swimming water is fewer than 200 colonies/100 mL of water; for fishing and boating, fewer than 1000 colonies/100 mL; and for domestic water supply fewer than 2000 colonies/100 mL.


2007 Arizona Board of Regents for The University of Arizona