Development and Evaluation of Three Simple, Low-Cost, Low-Tech Tests for Microbial Fecal Indicators in Drinking Water

EPA Grant Number: SU833548
Title: Development and Evaluation of Three Simple, Low-Cost, Low-Tech Tests for Microbial Fecal Indicators in Drinking Water
Investigators: Sobsey, Mark D.
Current Investigators: Sobsey, Mark D. , Stauber, Christine , Love, David , Tajuba, Julianne , McMahan, Lanakila , Casanova, Lisa , Chung, Sandra , Lusk, Tina
Institution: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
EPA Project Officer: Page, Angela
Phase: I
Project Period: September 30, 2007 through September 30, 2008
Project Amount: $10,000
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2007) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , P3 Challenge Area - Safe and Sustainable Water Resources , P3 Awards , Sustainable and Healthy Communities


No substance on Earth is as integral to human life and health as water. We use it for everything: drinking, cooking, feeding infants, personal hygiene, cleaning and recreation. When water is contaminated with disease-causing microorganisms (pathogens) the effects reach into every aspect of life. Better information about the quality of drinking and recreational water can reduce risks of waterborne and water-contact diseases and improve the health and lives of many.


To address these needs, we propose to develop and evaluate three simple, inexpensive, userfriendly, portable tests for bacterial and viral contamination of water that can be performed by the consumer or others at the point of use.


The three tests will detect and enumerate Escherichia coli (E. coli), coliphage, and hydrogen sulfide producing bacteria, respectively. E. coli, coliphage and H2S producing bacteria have been evaluated in peer-refereed journals and were shown to be reliable indicators of fecal contamination in water. However, there is limited or no evidence that the presence of these microbes consistently predict risk of waterborne illness. Microbiological water testing in the “global North” is commonplace places, where government regulations, management systems, monitoring specifications, and expensive laboratory equipment make simple work of testing the drinking water and surface water. In the “global South,” in remote areas, and after natural disasters, laboratory facilities are rarely available, and therefore, sustainable and elegantly simple microbial water quality tests are needed to monitor the sanitary quality of source, drinking water and bathing water.

Expected Results:

The successful application of our appropriate water testing technologies would reduce exposures to pathogens causing gastrointestinal and other diseases for people who often use water of questionable sanitary quality in the developing and developed world. These tests can also become important technologies for local entities (public health, natural resource/environmental protection and homeland security/emergency/disaster agencies) to supply and provide as a service, and to assess water in disaster situations where the equipment and personnel to perform standard drinking water analysis is lacking. The transfer of these sustainable technologies by their field application to test countries, specifically, the Dominican Republic, Cambodia and South Africa can empower, educate, and build capacity among people and organizations who lack the proper resources to make critical health decisions about drinking and ambient water quality.

Supplemental Keywords:

drinking water quality, ambient water, microbiology, public health, water resources, pathogens, viruses, bacteria, monitoring, analytical methods,

Progress and Final Reports:

  • Final Report