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Lett Appl Microbiol. 2012 Mar;54(3):217-24. doi: 10.1111/j.1472-765X.2011.03192.x. Epub 2012 Jan 6.

Effect of biofilm in irrigation pipes on microbial quality of irrigation water.

Author information

1
USDA-ARS, Environmental Microbial and Food Safety Laboratory, Beltsville, MD 20705, USA. yakov.pachepsky@ars.usda.gov

Abstract

AIMS:

The focus of this work was to investigate the contribution of native Escherichia coli to the microbial quality of irrigation water and to determine the potential for contamination by E. coli associated with heterotrophic biofilms in pipe-based irrigation water delivery systems.

METHODS AND RESULTS:

The aluminium pipes in the sprinkler irrigation system were outfitted with coupons that were extracted before each of the 2-h long irrigations carried out with weekly intervals. Water from the creek water and sprinklers, residual water from the previous irrigation and biofilms on the coupons were analysed for E. coli. High E. coli concentrations in water remaining in irrigation pipes between irrigation events were indicative of E. coli growth. In two of the four irrigations, the probability of the sample source, (creek vs sprinkler), being a noninfluential factor, was only 0.14, that is, source was an important factor. The population of bacteria associated with the biofilm on pipe walls was estimated to be larger than that in water in pipes in the first three irrigation events and comparable to one in the fourth event.

CONCLUSION:

Biofilm-associated E. coli can affect microbial quality of irrigation water and, therefore, should not be neglected when estimating bacterial mass balances for irrigation systems.

SIGNIFICANCE AND IMPACT OF THE STUDY:

This work is the first peer-reviewed report on the impact of biofilms on microbial quality of irrigation waters. Flushing of the irrigation system may be a useful management practice to decrease the risk of microbial contamination of produce. Because microbial water quality can be substantially modified while water is transported in an irrigation system, it becomes imperative to monitor water quality at fields, rather than just at the intake.

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