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J Appl Microbiol. 2004;96(5):922-30.

Use of microcosms to determine persistence of Escherichia coli in recreational coastal water and sediment and validation with in situ measurements.

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Department of Environmental Health, Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia.



To determine the persistence of the faecal indicator organism Escherichia coli in recreational coastal water and sediment using laboratory-based microcosms and validation with in situ measurements.


Intact sediment cores were taken from three distinct coastal sites. Overlying estuarine water was inoculated with known concentrations of E. coli and decay rates from both overlying water and sediment were determined following enumeration by the membrane filtration method at fixed time intervals over a 28-day period. It was demonstrated that E. coli may persist in coastal sediment for >28 days when incubated at 10 degrees C. Escherichia coli survival was found to have an inverse relationship with temperature in both water and sediment. In general the decay rate for E. coli was greater in water than in sediment. Small particle size and high organic carbon content were found to enhance E. coli survival in coastal sediments in the microcosms.


Results of this microcosm study demonstrated the more prolonged survival of E. coli in coastal sediments compared with overlying water, which may imply an increased risk of exposure because of the possible resuspension of pathogenic micro-organisms during natural turbulence or human recreational activity.


A more accurate estimate of exposure risk has been described which may subsequently be used in a quantitative microbial risk assessment for recreational coastal waters.

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