communication mediumEnvironmental Science & Technology
Numerous bacterial genetic markers are available for the molecular detection of human sources of fecal pollution in environmental waters. However, widespread application is hindered by a lack of knowledge regarding geographical stability, limiting implementation to a small number of well-characterized regions. This study investigates the geographic distribution of five human-associated genetic markers (HF183/BFDrev, HF183/BacR287, BacHum-UCD, BacH, and Lachno2) in municipal wastewaters (raw and treated) from 29 urban and rural wastewater treatment plants (750–4 400 000 population equivalents) from 13 countries spanning six continents. In addition, genetic markers were tested against 280 human and nonhuman fecal samples from domesticated, agricultural and wild animal sources. Findings revealed that all genetic markers are present in consistently high concentrations in raw (median log10 7.2–8.0 marker equivalents (ME) 100 mL–1) and biologically treated wastewater samples (median log10 4.6–6.0 ME 100 mL–1) regardless of location and population. The false positive rates of the various markers in nonhuman fecal samples ranged from 5% to 47%. Results suggest that several genetic markers have considerable potential for measuring human-associated contamination in polluted environmental waters. This will be helpful in water quality monitoring, pollution modeling and health risk assessment (as demonstrated by QMRAcatch) to guide target-oriented water safety management across the globe.