The aim of the research was to analyse the influence of a topsoil of pyroclastic origin on microbial contamination of groundwater in a carbonate aquifer and verify the reliability of thermotolerant coliforms and fecal enterococci as bacterial indicators. The research was carried out through hydrogeological and microbiological monitoring at an experimental field site in Italy during two hydrologic years and through column tests in a laboratory. The taxonomic classification of fecal indicators detected in spring water samples was performed using API20 galleries. Fecal enterococci were also identified by means of 16S rRNA gene sequencing. The topsoil of pyroclastic origin significantly retains both thermotolerant coliforms and fecal enterococci. Results of column tests carried out in soil blocks collected randomly within the test site suggest that Escherichia coli was more retained than Enterococcus faecalis, even though this difference is statistically significant in only two out of six soil samples. Thus, a non-uniform difference in retention is expected at field scale. This suggestion is in agreement with the results of the microbiological monitoring. In fact, fecal enterococci were a more reliable indicator than thermotolerant coliforms for detecting contamination at both seasonal springs of the aquifer system, while no significant differences were observed at the perennial spring.
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