An Innovative Approach to Detecting Mycobacterium in Drinking Water Systems


By including Mycobacterium avium Complex (MAC) on the Contaminant Candidate List, the U.S. EPA has initiated research to evaluate if MAC represent a significant threat to human health through occurrence in drinking water supplies. Currently, culture-based approaches to monitor for Mycobacterium require weeks before results are available. To reduce the time needed to screen for Mycobacterium, an interdisciplinary team including environmental and electrical engineers, microbiologists, and physicists worked together to create miniaturized culture-based devices to detect Mycobacterium rapidly. The first generation device relies upon the lipophilic properties of Mycobacterium to isolate target microorganisms in an abundance of non-target microorganisms. Water samples are re-circulated through a twenty-liter water distribution system simulator where paraffin chip devices are exposed to Mycobacterium present in the bulk water. After one day's exposure, the devices, are removed, prepared, and analyzed. An occurrence study of environmental MAC in southwestern Ohio hospitals is in progress. The two main questions being addressed by this study are: (1) is MAC in water distribution systems in health care settings, and (2) does the device provide a faster and more accurate way to detect MAC in environmental samples when compared with traditional methods. There is ecological, epidemiological, and pathological significance in rapidly screening for MAC in drinking water systems. It is possible, using the culture-based device described, to detect and identify MAC more quickly, and future developments aim to use this device for real-time MAC screening. This paper was presented at the 8th Annual Water Distribution Systems Analysis Symposium which was held with the generous support of Awwa Research Foundation (AwwaRF).

Meeting Name

8th Annual Water Distribution Systems Analysis Symposium 2006 (2006: Aug. 27-30, Cincinnati, OH)


Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering

Keywords and Phrases

Bacteria; Biosensors; Health risks; Pathogens; Pathology; Water distribution systems; Environmental occurrence; Mycobacterium; Opportunistic pathogens; Rapid methods; Potable water

Document Type

Article - Conference proceedings

Document Version


File Type





© 2007 American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), All rights reserved.

Publication Date

01 Aug 2007