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J Environ Manage. 2006 Aug;80(3):191-7. Epub 2005 Dec 9.

A long-term study comparing membrane filtration with Colilert defined substrates in detecting fecal coliforms and Escherichia coli in natural waters.

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Department of Natural Sciences, Longwood University, Farmville, VA 23909, USA.


Assessment methods for determining the presence and number of fecal bacteria and Escherichia coli (E. coli) in waters, foodstuffs, sewage effluent, and soils have evolved from multiple tube fermentations (MTF's) to membrane filtrations (MF's) to, most recently, defined substrate technologies (DST's). Mounting evidence indicates Colilert DST (IDEXX, Westbrook, ME) to be a versatile assessment technique for detecting and enumerating E. coli over a range of applications. This study compared the performance of Colilert DST with a confirmed standard MF technique using m-FC broth (Millipore, Bedford, MA) in assessing E. coli in ten different environmental water samples obtained monthly over a 3-year period from the upper Appomattox River, VA. For the duration of the study, E. coli counts measured by Colilert DST were positively correlated (Pearson's correlation coefficient=0.956; slope=0.979; p<0.0001) with E. coli counts measured by confirmed MF procedures. The results of a two-factor ANOVA revealed that Colilert DST counts compared equally to confirmed MF counts by year (p=0.974), by stream sampled (p=1.0), and by season (p=0.696). E. coli counts were significantly lower during cold season months (Dec/Jan/Feb) than during warm season months (Jun/Jul/Aug) for each year contributing to marked variation in sample quality. Counts obtained by Colilert DST compared equally to those obtained by MF across all samples and dates for the three years. Colilert DST presents a laboratory protocol that is simpler to manage, quicker to process, and easier to quantify results than MF. These factors, plus the enhanced precision and versatility of Colilert DST over the span of this three-year study attests to its suitability for testing ambient surface waters.

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