In both Brazilian and European regulations, the impact assessment of sewage discharges into coastal waters is based on microbiological analyses of fecal indicators such as Escherichia coli, frequently used in prevision hydrodynamic models. However, the decay rates of E. coli vary depending on environmental conditions, and analysis may lead to inaccurate conclusions. This study aimed to analyze the decay of culturable and viable (but not culturable) E. coli in outdoor conditions, by creating microcosms inoculated with pre-treated sewage. The microcosms were filled with 9.88 L of filtered water (0.22 μm membrane), 3.5% salt, 0.1–0.2% BHI, and 1% bacterial suspension obtained by reverse filtration. PMA-qPCR of E. coli uidA gene and Colilert measurements were applied to evaluate population counts after 2 h, 4 h, and 26 h. After nine hours of exposure to solar radiation, the viable cells decreased to 2.76% (interpolated value) of the initial population, and the cultivable fraction of the viable population accounted for 0.50%. In the dark period, the bacteria grew again, and viable cells reached 8.54%, while cultivable cells grew to 48.14% of initial population. This behavior is possibly due to the use of nutrients recycled from dead cells. Likewise, populations of E. coli in sewage outfalls remain viable in the sediments, where resuspension can renew blooming.
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An informal authorization to collect raw sewage was obtained, but the responsible for the operation did not authorized to mention the name of the sewage treatment plant in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The authors are grateful to CAPES (Grant # 001). JCW is thankful to CNPq for the financial support (CNPq Grant # 302741/2017-8).
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Carneiro, M.T., Perez, D.V., Feitosa, R.C. et al. Escherichia coli Capacity to Repopulate Microcosms Under Osmotic/U.V. Synergic Stress in Tropical Waters. Curr Microbiol 78, 756–764 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00284-020-02319-2