Document Type



Available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike 4.0 International Licence



Publication Details

Environ Pollut . 2021 Jan 1;268(Pt B):115687.

doi: 10.1016/j.envpol.2020.115687


Private wells in Ireland and elsewhere have been shown to be prone to microbial contamination with the main suspected sources being practices associated with agriculture and domestic wastewater treatment systems (DWWTS). While the microbial quality of private well water is commonly assessed using faecal indicator bacteria, such as Escherichia coli, such organisms are not usually source-specific, and hence cannot definitively conclude the exact origin of the contamination. This research assessed a range of different chemical contamination fingerprinting techniques (ionic ratios, artificial sweeteners, caffeine, fluorescent whitening compounds, faecal sterol profiles and pharmaceuticals) as to their use to apportion contamination of private wells between human wastewater and animal husbandry wastes in rural areas of Ireland. A one-off sampling and analysis campaign of 212 private wells found that 15% were contaminated with E. coli. More extensive monitoring of 24 selected wells found 58% to be contaminated with E. coli on at least one occasion over a 14-month period. The application of fingerprinting techniques to these monitored wells found that the use of chloride/bromide and potassium/sodium ratios is a useful low-cost fingerprinting technique capable of identifying impacts from human wastewater and organic agricultural contamination, respectively. The artificial sweetener acesulfame was detected on several occasions in a number of monitored wells, indicating its conservative nature and potential use as a fingerprinting technique for human wastewater. However, neither fluorescent whitening compounds nor caffeine were detected in any wells, and faecal sterol profiles proved inconclusive, suggesting limited suitability for the conditions investigated.