Coliform Bacteria: 5 Things You Should Know
Coliform bacteria is a complex subject, but protecting yourself is simple.
1. What is coliform bacteria?
Coliform bacteria is a group of 16 species of bacteria used to indicate water quality. These species are broken down into three groups: total coliform, fecal coliform, and E. coli.
- Total coliform is a catch-all term for the bacteria used in coliform testing. The presence of total coliform indicates that your water source has been exposed to environmental contamination from soil, plants or animals. But total coliform isn’t necessarily harmful, in fact, most species of coliform have no impact on human health. Instead, total coliform is a warning sign that your water supply is at risk of contamination from other disease-causing pathogens.
- Fecal coliforms are a subgroup of total coliforms. Generally speaking, these species of coliform bacteria originate from the feces of warm-blooded animals, including humans. Fecal coliforms can enter your water supply through a failing septic system or runoff water contaminated by animals or agriculture. If your water contains fecal coliforms you should switch immediately to bottled water. Fecal coliforms do not necessarily indicate the presence of harmful pathogens, but are a sign of high risk.
- E. coli is the strongest indicator of contamination from dangerous waterborne diseases. Therefore, if your water contains E. coli you should switch immediately to bottled water. Scientifically known as Escherichia coli, this species of coliform bacteria is usually harmless – minus a handful of toxic strains. Symptoms of infection include cramping, sudden and severe diarrhea, fatigue, and fever. In addition, complications can include anemia, urinary tract infections, respiratory illness, pneumonia, kidney failure, and death.
2. Am I at risk for coliform contamination?
State and federal governments require public water supplies to contain safe levels of coliform bacteria. This is usually achieved through water chlorination. But in the event of E. coli contamination, your public water system is required to notify you.
The safety of a private water supply is the sole responsibility of the well owner. So wells with a missing or defective well cap, poor sealing, flooding, or cracks can allow coliform bacteria to enter your water supply. Incorrect water treatment can also create an environment for coliform growth.
3. If my water contains fecal coliform or E. coli should I boil my water or use bottled water?
Bottled water and properly boiled water are both suitable for consumption in the event of a water infection. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that water be brought to a rolling boil for one minute to kill protozoa, bacteria, and viruses.
And at altitudes above 6,000 feet, boiling should extend to 3 minutes.
But improperly boiled water won’t kill harmful pathogens. Thus, Culligan recommends bottled water as a safe and secure source of water.
If your water is contaminated use bottled water for:
- Washing hands
- Brushing teeth
- Washing fruits or vegetables
- Preparing food
- Making baby formula
- Making coffee, tea, or other drinks
- Washing dishes
Infected water can still be used for:
- Showering (if no water is consumed)
And once the water contamination resolves, contact your local Culligan Man about replacing the filters on your in-home water treatment system.
4. What about pathogens other than E. coli?
Water safety is bigger than E. coli. Other potentially harmful pathogens include parasites like Giardia, and Cryptosporidium, and more than 100 water-borne viruses.
Giardia is a microscopic parasite that causes a diarrheal illness known as giardiasis. It’s found in areas contaminated with feces from infected humans or animals, and is commonly transmitted through drinking water.
Cryptosporidium is another microscopic parasite that causes gastrointestinal disease. It can be transmitted through unsanitary drinking water, and is one of the most common causes of waterborne disease in America.
Furthermore, although Giardia, Crypto, and viruses are often found in the presence of coliform, they can also be found without it.
5. What can I do in the long-term to prevent coliform contamination?
Culligan recommends private well owners conduct annual professional water testing to check for coliform bacteria and other forms of contamination. But your local Culligan Man may suggest a different frequency of testing depending on your well’s condition.
You should also hire a plumbing professional to ensure that your water supply is properly secured from outside contamination and treated for safe consumption.
In addition to annual testing, a Culligan Reverse Osmosis Drinking Water System with UV filter can act as a final barrier between your drinking water and harmful bacteria. But regardless of your in-home treatment, you should always switch to bottled water in the event of contamination from E.coli, fecal coliform and other harmful pathogens.