wisconsin-waterThis article discusses fecal contamination in Wisconsin’s public water systems and ground water wells. It highlights human associated bacteria as one of the sources.  According to the article, fecal contamination could be present in as many as 169,000 of Wisconsin’s private wells, as reported in a 2013 study by researchers with the state Department of Health Services.

Microbiological contamination of surface and ground water systems is a common challenge throughout the United States and the world. Illnesses associated with polluted water include stomach flu, skin rashes, pinkeye, respiratory infections, meningitis, and hepatitis. The US EPA has estimated that up to 3.5 million people per year become ill due to contact with raw sewage from sanitary sewer overflows. Ten percent of all water samples taken from American beaches exceed the protective benchmark for swimmer safety.

Common sources of fecal contamination include sewage overflows, agricultural run-off, birds, and wild animals. [wc_highlight color=”yellow”]One of the challenges is accurately detecting the source of contamination. [/wc_highlight] Regulatory agencies and municipal water operators rely on total coliform tests to provide an assessment of water quality. Positive coliform detections indicate there may be fecal pollution in the water. This may be misleading because coliform tests include several fecal bacteria as well as many naturally occurring environmental bacteria not associated with fecal contamination. In addition, coliform tests are not effective in tracking the source of the contamination. They can not distinguish human-associated bacteria from things like animals or birds.

Microbe Detectives’ metagenomic services solve this problem by detecting the specific bacteria that can be uniquely associated with the contamination source (ie, humans, farm animals, birds, and other sources). Armed with this new diagnostic insight, communities, operators, and various other stakeholders can move beyond guesswork and the occasional finger-pointing, and get on with solving the problems. This is what everyone wants to do, they just don’t know how to prioritize their work and where to focus.