Environmental risk assessment for fecal contamination sources in urban and peri-urban estuaries, in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties, FL, USA

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Environmental Monitoring and Assessment


Fecal pollution of estuaries and adjacent creeks and streams is of significant concern along the Gulf of Mexico. The prospective threat to human life and water quality impairment via fecal pollution is a substantial danger to the strength and resistance of coastline areas. Pensacola, FL, has a prosperous coastal tourism industry that is utilized for numerous other uses, such as recreational watersports and boating, seafood, and shellfish harvesting. However, the frequency and severity of fecal contamination present possible socio-economic issues, specifically financial hardships. Therefore, understanding the source, abundance, and fate of fecal microbial pollutants in aquatic systems signifies an imperative initial stage for detecting the host sources and techniques to lessen their transport from the landscape. This research aimed to quantify the fecal indicator bacteria (FIB), Escherichia coli, and perform microbiological fecal source tracking to verify if the fecal inputs are of either animal or human host origin. Surface water samples were taken from urban and peri-urban creeks for two sampling periods (February 2021 and January 2022), and IDEXX Colilert-18 (USEPA Standard Method 9223) was used for E. coli enumeration. DNA extractions were obtained from each sample, and quantitative PCR was utilized for fecal microbial source tracking (MST) to detect human, dog, ruminant, and bird host-specific Bacteroides DNA. The result indicates elevated quantities of FIB, E. coli, that surpass the threshold considered safe regarding human health. E. coli at six sites over the two sampling periods exceeded the impairment threshold, reaching as high as 866.4 MPN/100 ml. Fecal source tracking identified human host fecal contamination at four of nine sites, dogs at three of nine, and birds at one site. However, those sites with sources identified via MST all had E. coli levels below impairment thresholds. No sites were determined to be positive for ruminant as a source or for the pathogen Helicobacter pylori. No canine host fecal inputs were found in January 2022, and only one site with human sewage. Our results highlight the utility of MST in assessing bacterial inputs to water bodies and the challenges.


Biological and Environmental Sciences

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