Indicator Organisms

How do we know that the treated potable water entering the distribution system or coming out of a residential tap is microbially safe to drink or bathe with? Has the disinfection of a wastewater been effective? Is the water at the beach "swimmable"? Can shellfish be harvested from this bed?

Ideally, we might like to answer these questions by determining the concentration of each specific pathogen and parasite in the water. However, this is clearly impractical for a number of reasons, including the very large number of possible disease agents and the resulting enormity of the job and tremendous expense. Further, it is likely that not all pathogens are known yet, and even for some of those that are recognized there is no method to quantify them. Perhaps in the future, molecular techniques or other advances may make this goal more nearly attainable, but for now it is necessary to rely on some other approach.

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