McMurdo Station, Antarctica, has discharged untreated sewage into McMurdo Sound for decades. Previous studies delineated the impacted area, which included the drinking water intake, by using total coliform and Clostridium perfringens concentrations. The estimation of risk to humans in contact with the impacted and potable waters may be greater than presumed, as these microbial indicators may not be the most appropriate for this environment. To address these concerns, concentrations of these and additional indicators (fecal coliforms, Escherichia coli, enterococci, coliphage, and enteroviruses) in the untreated wastewater, water column, and sediments of the impacted area and drinking water treatment facility and distribution system at McMurdo Station were determined. Fecal samples from Weddell seals in this area were also collected and analyzed for indicators. All drinking water samples were negative for indicators except for a single total coliform-positive sample. Total coliforms were present in water column samples at higher concentrations than other indicators. Fecal coliform and enterococcus concentrations were similar to each other and greater than those of other indicators in sediment samples closer to the discharge site. C. perfringens concentrations were higher in sediments at greater distances from the discharge site. Seal fecal samples contained concentrations of fecal coliforms, E. coli, enterococci, and C. perfringens similar to those found in untreated sewage. All samples were negative for enteroviruses. A wastewater treatment facility at McMurdo Station has started operation, and these data provide a baseline data set for monitoring the recovery of the impacted area. The contribution of seal feces to indicator concentrations in this area should be considered.
Additional publication details
Occurrence of microbial indicators and Clostridium perfringens in wastewater, water column samples, sediments, drinking water, and Weddell seal feces collected at McMurdo Station, Antarctica