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Viral tracer studies indicate contamination of marine waters by sewage disposal practices in key largo, Florida.

Applied and Environmental Microbiology

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      Domestic wastewater disposal practices in the Florida Keys are primarily limited to on-site disposal systems such as septic tanks, injection wells, and illegal cesspits. Poorly treated sewage is thus released into the highly porous subsurface Key Largo limestone matrix. To investigate the fate and transport of sewage in the subsurface environment and the potential for contamination of marine surface waters, we employed bacteriophages as tracers in a domestic septic system and a simulated injection well in Key Largo, Florida. Transport of bacteriophage (Phi)HSIC-1 from the septic tank to adjacent surface canal waters and outstanding marine waters occurred in as little as 11 and 23 h, respectively. Transport of the Salmonella phage PRD1 from the simulated injection well to a canal adjacent to the injection site occurred in 11.2 h. Estimated rates of migration of viral tracers ranged from 0.57 to 24.2 m/h, over 500-fold greater than flow rates measured previously by subsurface flow meters in similar environments. These results suggest that current on-site disposal practices can lead to contamination of the subsurface and surface marine waters in the Keys.

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