State Water Resources Research Institute Program

Project ID: 2007PA70B
Title: Effectiveness of Fatty Acid Methyl Ester (FAME) Profiling to Determine Sources of Microbial Pollution in Chester Creek Watershed
Project Type: Research
Start Date: 3/01/2007
End Date: 2/29/2008
Congressional District: 7th
Focus Categories: Water Quality, Surface Water, Non Point Pollution
Keywords: Microbial contamination, fecal pollution, fecal coliform, Enterococci,fatty acid methyl ester (FAME) profiling,TMDL
Principal Investigator: Duran, Metin
Federal Funds: $ 20,000
Non-Federal Matching Funds: $ 43,422
Abstract: Despite the progress made since the passage of Clean Water Act in 1972, water quality is still a major concern with nearly 270 thousand miles of rivers, 8 million acres of lakes, and 16 thousand square miles of estuaries being polluted (EPA, 2000). Microbial contamination or presence of pathogens is the leading causes of water quality impairments in river and streams in the U.S. leading to human diseases and economic losses in industries that depend on coastal water quality, such as shell fisheries. Currently, there are over 1,500 total maximum daily load (TMDL) programs in the country due to the presence of pathogens. Pennsylvania is one of the most affected states as evidenced by the fact that the number of watersheds under a TMDL program due to the presence of pathogens increased from 6 in 2003 to 55 in 2006 (EPA, 2006). Culturing indicator organisms such as fecal coliforms has long been used as the primary indicators of microbial quality of water environments. Although this approach is highly reliable for detecting fecal contamination, it does not provide any information about the source(s) of fecal pollution. Yet appropriate and timely remedial actions, improved risk assessment, and more accurate TMDL estimations require accurate source identification.

The objective of the proposed research is to evaluate the field efficacy of a recently developed novel technology, fatty acid methyl ester (FAME) profiling, for predicting sources of microbial pollution in a full-scale watershed in Southeastern Pennsylvania. The high accuracy of FAME profiling to distinguish sources of fecal matter has been shown by research group of the PI in the laboratory setting and the encouraging results merit a field evaluation of this innovative approach. For that purpose, FAME profiles fecal coliforms and Enterococcus isolates cultured from water sampling collected in the most impaired section of Goose Creek (Chester Creek Watershed) will be developed through a year-long sampling. The profiles of the environmental isolates then will be compares to the known-source FAME profile library developed by the research team over the last three years.

Due to its capability to differentiate closely related microbial species, relative simplicity, quick turnover time (six samples can be analyzed on a GC within one hour), and the low cost per sample (less than $2.50 per sample), FAME technology has high potential to produce a reliable, economical, and effective tool for microbial source tracking. The proposed research is a critical step in full establishment of FAME technology as an effective tool for predicting sources of microbial pollution. If favorable results are obtained, the FAME technology would provide state agencies and other stake holders in the watershed protection field with the means to accurately determine source(s) of microbial pollution so that they can do more accurate TMDL developments and launch focused corrective actions targeting the exact source, rather than having to target all possible sources, even when they have limited budgets. In addition, the proposed research will provide educational and research opportunities for one graduate and two undergraduate students.

Progress/Completion Report, PDF

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