The history and application of microbiological water quality standards in the marine environment for primary contact recreation and shell fish harvesting are presented. Special note is taken of recent investigations which concluded that Enterococci, as an indicator organism, provided the best correlation with gastrointestinal symptoms attributed to swimming in contaminated waters. The linear relationship developed between mean enterococcus density per 100 ml and swimming associated rate for gastrointestinal symptoms per 1000 persons is presented along with the U S Environmental Protection Agency proposal to adopt Enterococci as the primary indicator organism in lieu of total and fecal coliforms.

One school of thought which considers microbiological guidelines/standards for primary contact recreation relevant to public health protection is compared to the opposing viewpoint that such guidelines/standards are merely useful for aesthetic considerations.

International, national and local microbiological guidelines and standards in the marine environment are presented to provide a range for the water quality planner. The simple adaptation of a particular set of standards is considered inappropriate without a thorough review of local circumstances and local/ national economic factors. Also, caution should be exercised in directly applying quantitative relationships between health risk and indicator organism in other areas where the general health and immunity of the local population may be different.

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