U-M professor develops faster way to test beach water for E. coli levels

ANN ARBOR---When officials close a public beach because the water is contaminated, those announcements don't come until days after the E. coli level has reached dangerous levels---and likewise the order to reopen a beach happens days after the level has dropped.

Rolf Deininger, a professor of Environmental Health Sciences in the University of Michigan School of Public Health, and Jiyoung Lee, a post-doctoral research fellow at the School of Public Health, developed a faster, portable testing unit that can yield results on the spot in about 45 minutes. This is faster than sending the sample off site for analysis, which often takes a day or two for results. Michigan Great Lakes Protection Fund helped finance the development, though now Deininger is waiting on funding for full field testing.

Deininger, who has helped design similar testing methods for drinking water and pool water, tested this new process at beaches in Michigan's Genesee, Macomb, Monroe and Washtenaw counties. Deininger used his process to test water at the same time the county health departments conducted traditional testing to show that they both got the same results but in different time frames.

Ultimately, the goal is to have the equipment be both portable and simple enough that a lifeguard could test the water each morning before allowing the public to swim at a beach that day.

The challenge with testing beach water, as opposed to pool or drinking water, is to work through the great amount of natural debris near the shore. An effective test needs to filter out enough debris to keep it from clogging the test unit's filter, but not do so much pre-treating as to tamper with results.

Here's how it works: the test uses a process called immunomagnetic separation, which uses tiny paramagnetic beads coated with antibodies specific to E. coli. Testing involves mixing the beads with a water sample. Treated beads attach to bacteria and the beads with attached b

Contact: Colleen Newvine
University of Michigan

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