WEF Experts Raise Issues About Water Contamination Indicators

October 13, 2015

WEF Resources & Efforts

On Aug. 14, the Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) submitted comments to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Review of Coliphages as Possible Indicators of Fecal Contamination for Ambient Water Quality. WEF’s Bacteriophage/Virus Task Force prepared the comments on this EPA literature review. The task force consists of experts from nine different WEF committees as well as from the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (Washington, D.C.).

In the comments, WEF notes that the current state of scientific knowledge regarding coliphages may not yet be sufficient to establish what viral indicator of fecal contamination is needed for ambient recreational water. WEF also notes that the literature review did not demonstrate that phages perform better than traditional bacterial indicators.

WEF requested that EPA

  • revisit a dialogue related to the assumption that viral pathogens are the leading cause of recreational waterborne illnesses in the U.S.;
  • review the most recent reports of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the causes of waterborne disease from untreated recreational waters in the U.S., and the relative contribution of viral pathogens to these diseases;
  • review how phages compare to certain current indicators of fecal contamination; and
  • provide additional explanation of why somatic coliphage could be a desirable viral indicator when it was correlated to viral illness in only one of eight cited studies.


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