Predicting pathogen risks to aid beach management: The real value of quantitative microbial risk assessment (QMRA)
There has been an ongoing dilemma for agencies that set criteria for safe recreational waters in how to provide for a seasonal assessment of a beach site versus guidance for day-to-day management. Typically an overall ‘safe’ criterion level is derived from epidemiologic studies of sewage-impacted beaches. The decision criterion is based on a percentile value for a single sample or a moving median of a limited number (e.g. five per month) of routine samples, which are reported at least the day after recreator exposure has occurred. The focus of this paper is how to better undertake day-to-day recreational site monitoring and management. Internationally, good examples exist where predictive empirical regression models (based on rainfall, wind speed/direction, etc.) may provide an estimate of the target faecal indicator density for the day of exposure. However, at recreational swimming sites largely impacted by non-sewage sources of faecal indicators, there is concern that the indicator-illness associations derived from studies at sewage-impacted beaches may be inappropriate. Furthermore, some recent epidemiologic evidence supports the relationship to gastrointestinal (GI) illness with qPCR-derived measures of Bacteroidales/Bacteroides spp. as well as more traditional fecal indicators, but we understand less about the environmental fate of these molecular targets and their relationship to bather risk. Modelling pathogens and indicators within a quantitative microbial risk assessment framework is suggested as a way to explore the large diversity of scenarios for faecal contamination and hydrologic events, such as from waterfowl, agricultural animals, resuspended sediments and from the bathers themselves. Examples are provided that suggest that more site-specific targets derived by QMRA could provide insight, directly translatable to management actions.