There are several measures of the 'cleanliness' of a natural body of water, including concentrations of indicator bacteria, anthropogenic chemicals (chemicals derived from human activities), and nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorous. Escherichia coli (E. coli) is a bacterium that lives in the intestinal tract of warm-blooded animals, such as humans, deer, cows, and dogs. Most strains of E. coli are not harmful and are in fact beneficial to humans by aiding in the digestive process. A few strains, such as the O157 strain, produce toxins that can cause gastrointestinal illness, but occurrence of toxic strains in the environment is not common. E. coli is considered a good indicator bacterium because its occurrence in the environment indicates the presence of fecal contamination and therefore the possible presence of pathogenic organisms associated with feces. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) recommends using measurements of E. coli to monitor freshwaters and set criteria for the concentration of bacteria that can be present in the water with minimal adverse human-health effects. Typically, a State's waters are assigned a recreational-use designation, such as bathing, primary-contact, or secondary contact waters, which is used to set the State's water-quality standards based on the USEPA criteria. The Cuyahoga River in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park is designated for primary-contact recreation; therefore, when concentrations of E. coli exceed 298 CFU/100mL, the river would be considered potentially unsafe for recreation.
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USGS Numbered Series
Occurrence of Escherichia coli in the Cuyahoga River in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio