There’s something in the Creek (It’s not Hepatitis…but it’s not very nice)

Andrew Fletcher

Don’t drink the water from “Hep Creek.”

For that matter, don’t swim or go boating in the body of water that runs near the athletic fields and residence halls, Professor Linda Post’s BMS 213L (Microbiology and Pathology Lab) class concluded after testing the waters.

The students tested for coliforms (lactose-fermenting organisms that produce gas) and enterococci (indicators that should not be found in water) on March 15 in the fabled creek.

Six samples were collected, and, on average, there were 933.3 units of coliforms per 100 mL of water found in the creek.  Drinking water should have 0/100 mL, water that is safe for swimming should have 235/100 mL and boating water should have 298/100 mL.

The students counted the number of brownish-black or black colonies and multiplied the number they found by 100 to obtain the final results.

“Just even thinking about touching the water makes me nauseous,” sophomore nursing major Camille Cielo said.  She said she was playing with a soccer ball near the creek one time and refused to retrieve it after it fell into the water.

The average enterococcus count was 650/100 mL, with safe levels for drinking water, swimming water and boating water being 0/100 mL, 61/100 mL and 89/100 mL, respectively.

“It’s disgusting because it’s indicating there’s fecal matter in the water,” Cielo said.

Post said she assigned the activity to make students aware of organisms in water, to demonstrate testing for contamination in water and to examine the concept of using non-pathogenic bacteria to indicate the presence of pathogenic bacteria in water.  Pathogenic bacteria are bacteria that cause infectious diseases.

In addition, students also used three techniques suggested by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for making contaminated water drinkable – boiling water, or adding iodine or bleach to the water.

“I was not particularly surprised at the results,” Post said in an e-mail. “All water has microorganisms in it and the creek was no surprise as to number or kinds. I was not necessarily surprised but very pleased that the emergency measures the EPA suggested worked so well. Each method eliminated all the bacteria.”

Cielo said the results were taken after a recent rainstorm, which may have skewed the results.  Debris and other materials from the ground could have ended up in the creek.

Photo Credit: Tara McMahon