2011 Progress Report: Rapidly Measured Indicators of Waterborne Pathogens

EPA Grant Number: R834789
Title: Rapidly Measured Indicators of Waterborne Pathogens
Investigators: Dorevitch, Samuel , Bushon, Rebecca N , Cali, Salvatore , Lin, King-Teh , Liu, Li , Scheff, Peter
Institution: University of Illinois at Chicago , MycoMetrics , USGS Biological Resources Division
EPA Project Officer: Nolt-Helms, Cynthia
Project Period: February 1, 2011 through January 31, 2014 (Extended to January 31, 2015)
Project Period Covered by this Report: February 1, 2011 through January 31,2012
Project Amount: $499,831
RFA: Exploring Linkages Between Health Outcomes and Environmental Hazards, Exposures, and Interventions for Public Health Tracking and Risk Management (2009) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Human Health , Health


The overall objective of this research is to improve environmental public health indicators used to monitor water quality at freshwater beaches. The indicators currently used at beaches – Escherichia coli (E. coli) or enterococci measured by culture – are limited in two important ways. First, the results are not available until 24 hours after laboratory testing begins, which means that beach managers use day-old information when deciding whether swimming should be permitted on a given day. Second, these indicator bacteria are generally not pathogenic in this context – they rarely cause disease following swimming. The pathogens that do cause disease are not measured at beaches, and it is not known how well measures of the indicators predict the presence of pathogens.
The specific objectives of this research are to: (1) compare four rapidly measured microbes as indicators of pathogen presence in recreational waters, (2) identify thresholds of rapidly measured indicators that maximize the accurate prediction of pathogen presence, and (3) implement a beach monitoring program using rapidly measuring indicators, and compare beach management decisions that result from the conventional use and the rapidly measured pathogen indicators.

Progress Summary:

In the first year of this study, water samples were collected from Lake Michigan beaches in Chicago. The water samples were tested for E. coli bacteria using the culture method commonly used for monitoring at Great Lakes beaches. We also tested water samples using new molecular methods that produce results within hours, allowing beach managers to make decisions with more up-to-date information. Results of our analyses suggest that one molecular method – quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) – generates precise and accurate information within hours. The results of the qPCR testing would result in similar beach management decisions as the culture method, but the results would be available within hours rather than the following day.

Future Activities:

In Year 2 of this research, we will compare the E. coli culture method typically used at beaches to the qPCR method as a predictor of the presence of pathogens in recreational waters.

Journal Articles:

No journal articles submitted with this report: View all 11 publications for this project

Supplemental Keywords:

Water quality, beaches, Great Lakes, Region V, environmental microbiology, qPCR, environmental public health indicators

Progress and Final Reports:

Original Abstract
  • 2012 Progress Report
  • 2013 Progress Report
  • Final Report