Slurry from farm animals may contaminate water supplies, rivers and bathing waters with faecal coliforms, such as Escherichia coli. Where animals harbour the O157 strain the hazard to human health is particularly high, but both the hazard level, and the low incidence and sporadic nature of the excretion of E. coli O157 make it difficult to study this strain under field conditions. The survival of total E. coli and of E. coli O157 were compared in the laboratory for two soils under controlled temperature and moisture. E. coli O157 die-off rate was the same as or quicker than for total E. coli. This result meant that field experiments studying the fate of total E. coli should give a satisfactory evaluation of the risk of water contamination by the O157 strain. In four field experiments at three sites, slurry containing total E. coli numbers of 2.2 × 104 to 5.7 × 105 colony forming units per mL (c.f.u. mL-1) was applied to drained field plots. Field die-off was faster than expected from laboratory experiments, especially in one experiment where two weeks dry weather followed application. In all but this experiment, the first drain flow events after slurry application led to very high E. coli concentrations in the drains (103 to 104 c.f.u. mL-1). E. coli O157 was present in the slurry used for two of the experiments (33 c.f.u. per 100 mL in each case). However the proportion of E. coli O157 was very low (about 1 in 105) and it was not detected in the drainage water. After the first week E. coli drainage water numbers decreased rapidly but they were 1-10 c.f.u, mL-1 for much of the sampling period after slurry application (1-3 months).
- Escherichia coli
- Water pollution