Methods for detecting total coliform bacteria in drinking water were compared using 1,483 different drinking water samples from 15 small community water systems in Vermont and New Hampshire. The methods included the membrane filter (MF) technique, a 10-tube fermentation tube (FT) technique, and the presence-absence (P-A) test. Each technique was evaluated using a 100-ml drinking water sample. Of the 1,483 samples tested, 336 (23%) contained coliforms as indicated by either one, two, or all three techniques. The FT detected 82%, the P-A detected 88%, and the MF detected 64% of these positives. All techniques simultaneously detected 55% of the positives. Evaluation of the confirmation efficiency of the P-A technique showed 94% of the presumptive positives confirming as coliforms. Thirteen different species of coliforms were identified from the 37 tests in which the P-A was positive but the MF and FT were negative. The P-A test was simple to inoculate and interpret and was considerably more sensitive than the MF and slightly more sensitive than the FT in detecting coliforms in this type of drinking water supply
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