Science Inventory

Microbial pathogens in source and treated waters from drinking water treatment plants in the United States and implications for human health


King, D., S. Pfaller, M. Donohue, S. Vesper, E. Villegas, M. Ware, S. Glassmeyer, M. Vogal, E. Furlong, AND D. Kolpin. Microbial pathogens in source and treated waters from drinking water treatment plants in the United States and implications for human health. SCIENCE OF THE TOTAL ENVIRONMENT. Elsevier BV, AMSTERDAM, Netherlands, 562:987–995, (2016).


A primary goal of this study is to provide accurate, objective information for assessing the potential for human exposure to these emerging microbial contaminants by exposure to drinking water. A secondary goal was to estimate removal, if any, of emerging contaminants from source waters by currently used drinking water treatment processes under typical plant operating conditions, and thus identify possible candidate compounds or organisms that may be amenable to enhanced reduction or removal.


An occurrence survey was conducted on selected pathogens in source and treated drinking water collected from 25 drinking water treatment plants (DWTPs) in the United States. Water samples were analyzed for the protozoa Giardia and Cryptosporidium (EPA Method 1623); the fungi Aspergillus fumigatus, Aspergillus niger and Aspergillus terreus (quantitative PCR [qPCR]); and the bacteria Legionella pneumophila (qPCR), Mycobacterium avium, M. avium subspecies paratuberculosis, and Mycobacterium intracellulare (qPCR and culture). Cryptosporidium and Giardia were detected in 25% and in 46% of the source water samples, respectively (treated waters were not tested). Aspergillus fumigatus was the most commonly detected fungus in source waters (48%) but none of the three fungi were detected in treated water. Legionella pneumophila was detected in 25% of the source water samples but in only 4% of treated water samples. M. avium and M. intracellulare were both detected in 25% of source water, while all three mycobacteria were detected in 36% of treated water samples. Five species of mycobacteria, Mycobacterium mucogenicum, Mycobacterium phocaicum, Mycobacterium triplex, Mycobacterium fortuitum, and Mycobacterium lentiflavum were cultured from treated water samples. Although these DWTPs represent a fraction of those in the U.S., the results suggest that many of these pathogens are widespread in source waters but that treatment is generally effective in reducing them to below detection limits. The one exception is the mycobacteria, which were commonly detected in treated water, even when not detected in source waters.

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Record Details:

Product Published Date: 06/01/2016
Record Last Revised: 06/17/2016
OMB Category: Other
Record ID: 319530