What is Coliform Bacteria in Water?

All water systems are always at risk of contamination, which is why the government regularly checks the water to ensure that people get a safe supply of water. If a water supply gets contaminated, people are risk of getting seriously ill. Water suppliers takes various measures to ensure that the public water systems are safe, educating people on water safety is one of these measures.

One impurity water suppliers constantly check for is coliform bacteria.

Checking for coliform bacteria in water systems is the standard procedure to determine whether the water is contaminated. The presence of coliform bacteria is actively dangerous as its presence in drinking water point out the existence of other disease-causing organisms in that water system.

What Is Coliform Bacteria?

Coliform bacteria are organisms that are present in the environment and in the digestive tracts of all warm-blooded beings, like humans and animals. The presence of coliform bacteria in the water is not harmful in itself, in turn, coliform acts only as an “indicator” organism. This means that if drinking water has coliform bacteria in it, then the water system probably has other disease-causing organisms, known as pathogens.

The number of available pathogens is numerous, this makes the process of testing and isolating each different pathogen time-consuming and costly. It is more advisable to test the water system for the indicator organism, and if the water has coliform bacteria in it, measures can be taken to decontaminate the water.

Three Types Of Coliform Bacteria

1) Total Coliform Bacteria are commonly found in the environment. The presence of total coliform bacteria is fairly common, as the source of contamination is environmental. But the presence of this type of bacteria means that the chances of more such organisms (pathogens) contaminating the water is high. It is prudent to further test the water and determine the source of the problem and resolve it.

2) Fecal Coliform Bacteria are a sub-group of total coliform bacteria. These bacteria are present in the feces of warm-blooded beings. The presence of fecal coliform in a sample suggests that there is a high probability for the existence of other organisms like pathogens. The water system is in danger of serious contamination in case fecal coliform bacteria are present in the tested water sample.

3) E.Coli are a sub-group of fecal coliform bacteria. These bacteria are harmless and are present in the digital tract of humans and warm-blooded animals. Although the presence of e.coli bacteria alone is not dangerous, its presence in the water sample indicates that there has been recent contamination in the water system. The presence of both fecal coliform bacteria and e.coli bacteria in a water sample means that the public water system has fecal contamination.

Prevention – Better Than A Cure?

The presence of coliform bacteria in drinking water increases the chances of contracting a water-borne disease. The only way to prevent such an event is to check your water occasionally for the presence of coliform bacteria. Late spring or early summer is considered as the best time to test your water source, as the contamination happens mostly during wet weather. If in the case of coliform bacteria being detected in your well or water source, immediate measures must be taken to decontaminate your drinking water.

In recent years, certain rare strains of e.coli bacteria have been cause for major concern. The contamination of e.coli bacteria means that anyone consuming the water from that source is in immediate health risk. In such cases, the health authorities will immediately take measures to decontaminate the water system. Until then, drinking boiled water is advisable to reduce the chances of risk and contracting diseases.

Learn More: Ways you can filter your water