Coliform and the USGS (U.S. Geological Service)
Sheridan Kidd Haack

Subject: Re: Bacteria and Their Effects on Ground-Water Quality
Date: 7/12/2007 1:54:41 P.M. Pacific Daylight Time
From: BynJam
Reply To:  

I appreciate your response.
Granted, my concern is sewage. I am just an old county boy with a keen curiosity about these fecal coliform
that are indicators of fecal pollution. I hope you can help correct the error of my ways and at least give me a
short list, say 10 or 12, of these fecal coliform bacteria. I would think the plating of bacteria would be a little
expensive, so what type of test is being done.

This is an important..
Thanks for your help.
Jim Bynum

In a message dated 7/12/2007 12:01:50 P.M. Pacific Daylight Time, writes:

All of your citations are correct.  However, there is an important distinction between the general indicators of
fecal pollution and these pathogenic strains.  In your gastrointestinal tract right now you have millions of E. coli,
enterococci and fecal coliforms.  There are more bacteria cells in your body than there are human cells!  But I
would warrant that you have few if any of the pathogens you listed below.  If one plates out fecal coliforms on
the typical media used for water quality analysis, the vast majority and in many cases all of these bacteria are
simply indicators of fecal pollution and not pathogens.  If one plates out E. coli on the typical media used for
water quality monitoring, the vast majority of the E. coli obtained are just fecal indicators--and they are rarely
E. coli in the O157:H7 serogroup.  Even if one plates cow manure the prevalence of this pathogenic form of E.
coli is a small percentage of the E. coli obtained, or cannot be obtained at all.  The pathogenic forms of these
bacteria are not typically very abundant in sewage.  This is not to say they are never present, but the fecal
indicator bacteria (e.g., fecal coliforms, E. coli, enterococci) are not necessarily the problem for many water
issues.  In sewage, viruses are considered the most likely cause of human illness.  In some animal wastes,
pathogenic protozoa may be a concern.   

None of this discussion argues that sewage or other fecal pollution is innocuous, but in many cases the
pathogenic forms of the fecal indicator bacteria are not the most hazardous component, and may not be
present at all, even if bacteria numbers are otherwise high.   

Sheridan Kidd Haack
USGS, Lansing, Michigan 48911
Phone: 517-887-8909
Fax: 517-887-8937
07/12/2007 02:09 PM
Subject Re: Bacteria and Their Effects on Ground-Water Quality

In a message dated 7/12/2007 8:10:07 A.M. Pacific Daylight Time, writes:
Yes, this is quite an old document and I had thought it was removed from our web site.

However, I would point out that the vast majority of the fecal indicator bacteria do not cause human health
effects; that many grow in the environment and neither indicate fecal pollution nor appear to be harmful to
human health; and that we as a society desperately need new tools and approaches that allow resource
manager and public health officials to address the real pathogens.

Sheridan Kidd Haack
USGS, Lansing, Michigan 48911
Phone: 517-887-8909
Fax: 517-887-8937
I have always felt the USGS was a straight forward agency that pulled no punches. However,
the medical community disagrees with the first statement. I hope you are working off old studies and USGS just
missed the boat on this. But then EPA has too, unless it has pulled another PR stunt. There are now over 200
strains of E. coli 0:H As the Queen's Microbiology Examination notes, a fecal colifom is primarily E. coli. Fecal
coliform is a subgroup of total coliform, which is a working designation for 12 very bad gram negative bacteria,
including E. coli, Salmonella, Entrobacter and the black plague bacteria, etc.,  Streptococci was the first
causative agent of  necrotizing fasciitis and Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS).  Invasive group A streptococci and
Staphylococci both cause invasive necrotizing fasciitis, cellulitis, and myositis. One of the Staphylococci
focused on recently is community acquired (CA) methicillin resistant Staphylococcus (MRSA) which is
escalating around the world with some being extremely drug resistant strains..
"In Montreal, Canada, five people came down with group B streptococcus necrotizing fasciitis from the period of
April 1996 to October 1997. This strain is so rare that only four other cases in the past forty years worldwide
had been reported".
Now, would you say these bacteria generally cause no harm?
Best Regards,
Jim Bynum
07/11/2007 08:42 PM

Subject Bacteria and Their Effects on Ground-Water Quality

I wonder if USGS has a better understanding of the deadly nature of fecal bacteria indicator bacteria since this
was written.
The fecal indicator bacteria (Escherichia coli, fecal coliforms, fecal streptococci) are typically used to measure
the sanitary quality of water for recreational, industrial, agricultural and water supply purposes.
The fecal
indicator bacteria are natural inhabitants of the gastrointestinal tracts of humans and other warm-blooded
animals. These bacteria in general cause no harm.
Jim Bynum