Quantitative microbial risk assessment of microbial source tracking markers in recreational water contaminated with fresh untreated and secondary treated sewage

Warish Ahmed, Kerry A. Hamilton, Aldo Lobos, Bridie Hughes, Christopher Staley, Michael J. Sadowsky, Valerie J. Harwood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

66 Scopus citations


Microbial source tracking (MST) methods have provided the means to identify sewage contamination in recreational waters, but the risk associated with elevated levels of MST targets such as sewage-associated Bacteroides HF183 and other markers is uncertain. Quantitative microbial risk assessment (QMRA) modeling allows interpretation of MST data in the context of the risk of gastrointestinal (GI) illness caused by exposure to known reference pathogens. In this study, five sewage-associated, quantitative PCR (qPCR) MST markers [Bacteroides HF183 (HF183), Methanobrevibacter smithii nifH (nifH), human adenovirus (HAdV), human polyomavirus (HPyV) and pepper mild mottle virus (PMMoV)] were evaluated to determine at what concentration these nucleic acid markers reflected a significant health risk from exposure to fresh untreated or secondary treated sewage in beach water. The QMRA models were evaluated for a target probability of illness of 36 GI illnesses/1000 swimming events (i.e., risk benchmark 0.036) for the reference pathogens norovirus (NoV) and human adenovirus 40/41 (HAdV 40/41). Sewage markers at several dilutions exceeded the risk benchmark for reference pathogens NoV and HAdV 40/41. HF183 concentrations 3.22 × 103 (for both NoV and HAdV 40/41) gene copies (GC)/100 mL of water contaminated with fresh untreated sewage represented risk >0.036. Similarly, HF183 concentrations 3.66 × 103 (for NoV and HAdV 40/41) GC/100 mL of water contaminated with secondary treated sewage represented risk >0.036. HAdV concentration as low as 4.11 × 101 GC/100 mL of water represented risk >0.036 when water was contaminated with secondary treated sewage. Results of this study provide a valuable context for water quality managers to evaluate human health risks associated with contamination from fresh sewage. The approach described here may also be useful in the future for evaluating health risks from contamination with aged or treated sewage or feces from other animal sources as more data are made available.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)243-249
Number of pages7
JournalEnvironment international
StatePublished - Aug 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We gratefully acknowledge Julius Career Award funding from CSIRO and the School of Agriculture and Food Sciences, The University of Queensland . We also thank the Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station for funding to Michael J. Sadowsky.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 Elsevier Ltd


  • Health risk
  • MST
  • QMRA
  • Recreational water
  • Sewage contamination


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