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Distribution of indicator bacteria and Vibrio parahaemolyticus in sewage-polluted intertidal sediments.

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  • Research Article
  • Ecology
  • Geography
  • Medicine


The impact of a sewage point source on the bacterial densities in an intertidal mud flat in Boston Harbor, Mass., was investigated. The area, Savin Hill Cove, acts as a receiving basin for a combined storm and sewage outlet (CSO). Preliminary examination of sediments and overlying water at high tide demonstrated that fecal coliforms were present in sediments at abundances 2 to 4 orders of magnitude higher than in the overlying water column. The following bacterial counts were determined from sediments along a sampling transect extending 460 m from the CSO: total bacteria by epifluorescent microscopy, heterotrophic bacteria by plate counts on nutrient-rich and nutrient-poor media, fecal coliforms and enterococci by membrane filtration, and Vibrio parahaemolyticus by a most-probable-number technique with a resuscitation step. Median sediment grain size, average tidal exposure, carbon/nitrogen ratio, and total organic carbon were also measured. All bacterial indices, except for V. parahaemolyticus, declined significantly with distance from the outfall. Multiple regression analysis indicated that tidal exposure (low tides) may affect densities of total bacteria. Fecal coliforms and enterococci were still present in appreciable numbers in sediments as far as 460 m away from the CSO. In contrast, V. parahaemolyticus densities did not correlate with the other bacterial counts nor with any of the environmental parameters examined. These results indicate that intertidal sediments which adjoin point sources of pollution are severely contaminated and should be considered as potentially hazardous reservoirs of sewage-borne diseases.

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