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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2012 Jan;78(1):219-26. doi: 10.1128/AEM.06554-11. Epub 2011 Oct 21.

Fecal indicators and zoonotic pathogens in household drinking water taps fed from rainwater tanks in Southeast Queensland, Australia.

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CSIRO Land and Water, Ecosciences Precinct, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.


In this study, the microbiological quality of household tap water samples fed from rainwater tanks was assessed by monitoring the numbers of Escherichia coli bacteria and enterococci from 24 households in Southeast Queensland (SEQ), Australia. Quantitative PCR (qPCR) was also used for the quantitative detection of zoonotic pathogens in water samples from rainwater tanks and connected household taps. The numbers of zoonotic pathogens were also estimated in fecal samples from possums and various species of birds by using qPCR, as possums and birds are considered to be the potential sources of fecal contamination in roof-harvested rainwater (RHRW). Among the 24 households, 63% of rainwater tank and 58% of connected household tap water (CHTW) samples contained E. coli and exceeded Australian drinking water guidelines of <1 CFU E. coli per 100 ml water. Similarly, 92% of rainwater tanks and 83% of CHTW samples also contained enterococci. In all, 21%, 4%, and 13% of rainwater tank samples contained Campylobacter spp., Salmonella spp., and Giardia lamblia, respectively. Similarly, 21% of rainwater tank and 13% of CHTW samples contained Campylobacter spp. and G. lamblia, respectively. The number of E. coli (P = 0.78), Enterococcus (P = 0.64), Campylobacter (P = 0.44), and G. lamblia (P = 0.50) cells in rainwater tanks did not differ significantly from the numbers observed in the CHTW samples. Among the 40 possum fecal samples tested, Campylobacter spp., Cryptosporidium parvum, and G. lamblia were detected in 60%, 13%, and 30% of samples, respectively. Among the 38 bird fecal samples tested, Campylobacter spp., Salmonella spp., C. parvum, and G. lamblia were detected in 24%, 11%, 5%, and 13% of the samples, respectively. Household tap water samples fed from rainwater tanks tested in the study appeared to be highly variable. Regular cleaning of roofs and gutters, along with pruning of overhanging tree branches, might also prove effective in reducing animal fecal contamination of rainwater tanks.

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