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H Billian, LA Krometis, T Thompson and C Hagedorn
The past three decades' data on outbreaks in the United States indicate that homes dependent on untreated groundwater (e.g. wells) for household drinking water that are also reliant on onsite treatment of household wastewater (e.g. septic systems) may be at greater risk for waterborne disease. While groundwater quality monitoring to protect public health has traditionally focused on the detection of fecal indicator bacteria, the application of emerging source tracking strategies may offer a more efficient means to identify pollution sources and effective means of remediation. This study compares the movement of common fecal indicator bacteria (E. coli and enterococci) with a chemical (optical brighteners, OB) and a molecular (Bacteroides HF183) source tracking (ST) target in small scale septic drainfield models in order to evaluate their potential utility in groundwater monitoring. Nine PVC column drainfield models received synchronized doses of primary-treated wastewater twice daily, with influent and effluent monitored bi-weekly over a 7-month period for all targets. Results indicate that E. coli and enterococci concentrations were strongly associated (Spearman’s rank, p<0.05), and correlations between enterococci and optical brighteners were moderately strong. Bacteroides HF183 was significantly, but not strongly, associated with optical brighteners and both indicator bacteria (Point-biserial correlation, p<0.05), most likely due to its sporadic detection. Application of human ST marker monitoring in groundwaters at risk of contamination by human sewage is recommended, although consistent interpretation of results will rely on more detailed evaluation of HF183 incidence in source contamination waters.
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