Characterization of Fecal Contamination in the Newport River Estuary (North Carolina, USA) Public Deposited

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  • March 20, 2019
  • Coulliette, Angela D.
    • Affiliation: Gillings School of Global Public Health, Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering
  • Estuaries are valuable habitats (e.g. seagrass meadows, forested wetlands) and are also economically important for various industrial avenues (e.g. shellfish, tourism). They make up only 13% of the nation's landscape, however, a majority of the human population lives (43%) and works (40%) in coastal and estuarine areas (Restore Americas Estuaries Report 2008). These locations are experiencing increases in land modifications and development (i.e. impervious surfaces) to support such populations. Subsequently, severe water quality issues have resulted due to nonpoint source (NPS) pollution, such as stormwater runoff, contributing fecal contamination to the neighboring waters. Specifically, the Newport River Estuary (NPRE) in North Carolina is listed as impaired for fecal coliforms and an estuarine-wide study was conducted to assess this impairment in relation to stormwater. Major findings regarding the NPRE, a high priority shellfish harvesting area, included (1) stormwater runoff being the main contributor of fecal pollution with concentrations ranging from 1.0 x 102 to 5.0 x 103 fecal indicator bacteria (FIB) per 100 ml, (2) four day antecedent (day of sampling and three days prior) rainfall explained 60% of the fecal coliform pollution, and (3) tidal trends played a large role in FIB concentrations. Further research in a tributary leading to the NPRE showed loading rates to the shellfish harvesting area were approximately 1.0 x 104 to 1.0 x 105 FIB per 100 ml every 10 minutes during rainfall (>2.54 cm) when a dilution effect from the shore of 100 FIB per 100 ml per 100 meters was assumed (calculated from data from this study). Partitioning of the fecal signal by using an alternative FIB, Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron, illustrated that although a majority of FIB were above acceptable water quality thresholds for shellfish harvesting areas, the fecal contamination was likely to be not of human origin. However, the bacterial pathogen Campylobacter lari was detected in the NPRE, raising public health concerns. Overall, the NPRE is experiencing serious water quality issues from NPS pollution via stormwater runoff, and although the contamination is most likely from environmental sources, it will be important to control this runoff to keep this valuable estuary healthy.
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  • In Copyright
  • Noble, Rachel T.
  • Open access

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