The ‘H2S test’ is being advanced for microbiological water quality testing where conventional coliform based methods are impractical or too expensive. It involves ambient temperature incubation of water samples with nutrient formulated to generate hydrogen sulphide when ‘faecal’ bacteria are present. Recently a WHO review identified several concerns including the limited number of comparative studies, formulation variability, and false positives and negatives. In response we have compared the H2S test's ability to detect and quantify faecal contamination in an aquifer impacted by septic tank leachfields with measurements obtained concurrently using conventional bacterial indicators, coliphages, faecal sterol biomarkers, Cryptosporidium and Giardia. Like these other analytes, H2S testing detected a contamination gradient ranging from high (septic liquid) to moderate (exfiltration zones), to background (e.g. domestic bores), corresponding to indicator removal + dilution by factors >106. Presence/absence tests could not distinguish between heavily and slightly contaminated waters, whereas multi-tube testing (e.g. 10 × 10 mL arrays) did. It was concluded that while the WHO review concerns are justified, the H2S test performance shows promise in sanitary survey work, can be improved by employing an mpn approach and has potential to aid in the protection of source water and identifying contaminated groundwater.
Hydrogen sulphide production tests and the detection of groundwater faecal contamination by septic seepage
D.J. Roser, N. Ashbolt, G. Ho, K. Mathew, J. Nair, D. Ryken-Rapp, S. Toze; Hydrogen sulphide production tests and the detection of groundwater faecal contamination by septic seepage. Water Sci Technol 1 May 2005; 51 (10): 291–300. doi: https://doi.org/10.2166/wst.2005.0378
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