Mycobacterium avium Complex in Drinking Water: Detection, Distribution, and Routes of Exposure

EPA Grant Number: R828036
Title: Mycobacterium avium Complex in Drinking Water: Detection, Distribution, and Routes of Exposure
Investigators: Ford, Timothy E. , Arbeit, Robert D.
Current Investigators: Ford, Timothy E.
Institution: Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health , Boston University
Current Institution: Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health , Montana State University
EPA Project Officer: Nolt-Helms, Cynthia
Project Period:     (Extended to March 21, 2004)
Project Amount: $516,679
RFA: Drinking Water (1999) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Drinking Water , Water


Organisms of the Mycobacterium avium complex (MAC) are an increasingly prevalent cause of clinical disease and are known to be widespread in drinking water supplies. However, there are significant gaps in our current knowledge. Available methods for the detection of MAC in water require harsh decontamination and are likely relatively insensitive; there are no validated methods for the detection of MAC in biofilm, a likely reservoir for organisms in water distribution systems. Our objectives are to: (i) develop improved methods for detecting MAC in drinking water samples, (ii) develop methods for the detection of MAC in biofilms, and (iii) determine the prevalence of MAC in municipal drinking water distribution systems and at sites of end user exposure (drinking water, hot water, and toilet tank water).


We propose to investigate a novel alternative method that exploits the relatively unique ability of MAC to utilize solid phase paraffin as a sole carbon source. We will also evaluate PCR as a method for direct (non-culture) detection of MAC in drinking water samples.

We propose to investigate techniques for the direct detection of MAC in biofilms, including the use of labeled DNA probes and specific antibodies, PCR, and paraffin slide culture. These techniques will be evaluated using biofilms that develop on sampling coupons maintained in a hot water bypass system.

We propose to systematically sample water and biofilms in the reservoirs, distribution systems, and end-user sites (commercial, institutional and residential buildings) of four geographically separate communities in Eastern Massachusetts. Samples will be collected over both space and time to investigate both physical and seasonal factors. Within end-user buildings, liquid and biofilm samples will be obtained from drinking water, hot water, and toilet tank water. Data on the presence of MAC will be correlated with water quality parameters.

Expected Results:

This research should significantly improve our ability to detect MAC in environmental samples and provide information on the factors influencing the distribution of MAC in municipal water systems. Successful completion of this research will provide information on optimal methodologies for assessing MAC in drinking water.

Publications and Presentations:

Publications have been submitted on this project: View all 6 publications for this project

Supplemental Keywords:

Pathogens, survival, proliferation, new techniques, RFA, Scientific Discipline, Water, Environmental Chemistry, Health Risk Assessment, Environmental Microbiology, Environmental Monitoring, Ecological Risk Assessment, Drinking Water, alternative disinfection methods, monitoring, CCL, water quality parameters, detection, exposure and effects, exposure, mycobacterium avium complex, routes of exposure, community water system, treatment, emerging pathogens, water quality, microbial exposure, drinking water contaminants, water treatment, drinking water treatment, contaminant removal, contaminant candidate list, drinking water system

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2000 Progress Report
  • 2001 Progress Report
  • 2002 Progress Report
  • 2003
  • Final