Honors Program

Midway Honors, [Honors-in-Discipline (Choose below)], Honors in Health Sciences: Environmental Health

Date of Award


Thesis Professor(s)

Dr. Phillip R. Scheuerman

Thesis Professor Department

Environmental Health

Thesis Reader(s)

Dr. Kurt J. Maier, Dr. Karen R. Kornweibel


Since the passage of the Clean Water Act, concern about surface water quality has increased. Reducing exposure to pathogens and adverse impacts on human health because of contact with surface waters has become the focus of many regulatory agencies. Fecal pollution is often a cause of surface water impairment. Fecal indicators, such as fecal coliforms and Escherichia coli, are used as surrogates to evaluate the presence or absence of fecal pollution. However, a growing body of research has shown that these species lack key characteristics necessary to be adequate indicators. As such, explorations into the efficacy of indicator species in predicting fecal pollution in water are necessary. Sinking Creek is a tributary of the Watauga River Watershed, located in Northeast Tennessee. Approximately ten miles of Sinking Creek have been placed on the national 303(d) list for fecal pollution, denoting the presence of fecal contamination exceeding the regulatory limit. Salmonella and Aeromonas are two enteric pathogens that would be expected to be detected in fecally contaminated waters. The primary objective of this study was to detect the presence of Salmonella and Aeromonas in Sinking Creek. The secondary objective was to evaluate their relationship with fecal coliforms, E. coli, and water quality parameters. Six study sites along Sinking Creek were sampled and standard methods were used to enumerate Salmonella and Aeromonas. Samples for Salmonella were collected for 8 months, while samples for Aeromonas were collected for seven. Salmonella and Aeromonas were present in Sinking Creek. Salmonella had the highest concentration at site 2 (the most downstream site), and was detected during all months of the study except for November. Salmonella concentrations varied by site. Aeromonas was present only during colder months, and had the highest concentration at site 2. Both Salmonella and Aeromonas show qualitative relationships with water quality parameters, such as dissolved oxygen and conductivity. However, statistically significant correlations of Salmonella and Aeromonas with water quality parameters were not observed. The lack of statistical significance is partially due to large variability and a small data set. Neither Salmonella or Aeromonas exhibited a relationship with fecal coliforms or E. coli. Therefore, fecal coliforms and E. coli may not be adequate indicator species for the presence of Salmonella, Aeromonas and possibly other waterborne pathogens. Traditional indicator species may inflate risk of pathogen exposure. Thus, many water bodies may be unnecessarily deemed as impaired. The results from this study can be used to guide further research regarding covariates influencing pathogen densities at fecally contaminated sites, as well as to guide decisions regarding impaired surface waters and management techniques.


East Tennessee State University

Document Type

Honors Thesis - Open Access

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