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Journal of Environmental Quality Abstract - Surface Water Quality

Evaluation of the Host-Specificity and Prevalence of Enterococci Surface Protein (esp) Marker in Sewage and its Application for Sourcing Human Fecal Pollution


This article in JEQ

  1. Vol. 37 No. 4, p. 1583-1588
    Received: Sept 6, 2007

    * Corresponding author(s): Warish.Ahmed@nrw.qld.gov.au
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  1. W. Ahmed *a,
  2. J. Stewartb,
  3. D. Powellc and
  4. T. Gardnera
  1. a Dep. of Natural Resources and Water, Queensland 4068, Australia
    b BMT WBM Pty Ltd, Queensland 4004, Australia
    c Faculty of Science, Health and Education, Univ. of the Sunshine Coast, Maroochydore DC 4558, Queensland, Australia


The suitability of the enterococci surface protein (esp) marker to detect human fecal pollution was evaluated by testing 197 fecal samples from 13 host groups in Southeast Queensland, Australia. Overall, this marker was detected in 90.5% of sewage and septic system samples and could not be detected in any fecal samples from 12 animal host groups. The sensitivity of the esp primer to detect the human-specific esp marker in sewage and septic samples was 100 and 67%, respectively. The overall specificity of this marker to distinguish between human and animal fecal pollution was 100%. Its prevalence in sewage was also determined by testing samples from the raw sewage, secondary effluent, and treated effluent of a sewage treatment plant (STP) over five consecutive days. Of the 15 samples tested, 12 (80%) were found to be positive for this marker. In contrast, it was not found in three samples from the treated effluent and these samples did not contain any culturable enterococci. The PCR limit of detection of this marker in freshwater samples was up to dilution 1 × 10−4 and the number of culturable enterococci at this dilution was 4.8 × 101 ± 7.0 × 10° colony forming unit (CFU). The utility of this marker was evaluated by testing water samples from three non-sewered catchments in Pine Rivers in Southeast Queensland. Of the 13 samples tested, eight were positive for this marker with the number of enterococci ranging between 1.8 × 103 to 8.5 × 103 CFU per 100 mL of water. Based on the results, it can be concluded that the esp marker appears to be sewage specific and could be used as a reliable marker to detect human fecal pollution in surface waters in Southeast Queensland, Australia.

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