Influence of wastewater disinfection on densities of culturable fecal indicator bacteria and genetic markers

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The US Environmental Protection Agency has proposed the use of quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) as a rapid alternative analytical method for monitoring recreational water quality at beaches. For qPCR to be considered for other Clean Water Act purposes, such as inclusion in discharge permits and use in Total Maximum Daily Load calculations, it is necessary to understand how qPCR detectable genetic markers are influenced by wastewater disinfection. This study investigated genetic markers for Escherichia coli, Enterococcus, Clostridium spp., Bacteroides, total Bacteroidales, as well as the human-associated Bacteroides markers, HF183 and HumM2, to determine which, if any, were influenced by disinfection (chlorination or ultraviolet light) of effluents from secondary wastewater treatment in different seasons. The effects of disinfection on culturable enterococci, E. coli, Bacteroides, and C. perfringens were also compared to their associated genetic markers. Disinfection of secondary treatment effluents significantly reduced culturable fecal indicator bacteria (FIB) but not genetic marker densities. No significant differences were observed in the responses of FIB culture and genetic marker densities to type of disinfection (chlorination vs UV) or season. Results of this study provide evidence that qPCR may not be suitable for monitoring efficacy of wastewater disinfection on the inactivation of bacterial pathogens.

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