Chemical Disinfection and Injury of Bacteria in Water

  • Gordon A. McFeters
  • Mark W. LeChevallier


Exposure of enteric bacteria to sublethal levels of antibacterial agents and unfavorable conditions in many environments results in altered phenotypes within these organisms. Reports over the past five decades describe the failure of Escherichia coli to be recovered using commonly accepted media and incubation conditions following exposure to compounds such as phenolic antiseptics (33, 35) and chlorine (68). As reviewed by Harris (32) and Ray (75), these early observations of reduced bacterial recovery following exposure to a range of sublethal environmental Stressors were interpreted as a form of cellular damage that reduced the culturability of allochthonous bacteria using methods that were not restrictive for freshly cultivated bacteria. Some of the earliest workers studying this phenomenon observed that such damaged bacteria became more fastidious in their nutritional requirements for subsequent growth (100). An additional facet of that phenomenon that was also recognized relatively early (32) was the capability of the stressed cells to regain their more robust phenotype through a “revival” process where the damage was repaired under favorable circumstances. This recovery typically requires between 1 and 3 h of incubation under nonrestrictive conditions. During this time the level of colonyforming units (CFU) on selective media increases to the constant concentration seen using nonselective media. As pointed out by Litsky (54), environmental conditions that stress enteric bacteria are a common feature of most aquatic systems, and it should not be surprising that damaged cells are incapable of colony formation on many harsh selective media that continue to be used in microbiological analyses. Litsky further argued that this scenario represents an error among the early environmental microbiologists since many of these analytical approaches were borrowed without modification from medical applications where the target bacteria are both more numerous and directly isolated from an environment within a patient or animal to which the bacteria are well adapted.


Much Probable Number Coliform Bacterium Free Chlorine Indicator Bacterium Chlorine Dioxide 
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Copyright information

© ASM Press, Washington, D.C. 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gordon A. McFeters
    • 1
  • Mark W. LeChevallier
    • 2
  1. 1.Microbiology Department and Center for Biofilm EngineeringMontana State UniversityBozemanUSA
  2. 2.American Water Works Service Co. Inc.VoorheesUSA

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