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Many streams, lakes and marine waters in Washington State are contaminated with fecal coliform bacteria. The presence of fecal coliforms is an indicator of pathogens, or disease-causing organisms, in the water as a result of contamination from human waste and waste from other warm-blooded animals. High levels of fecal coliform in the water have been shown to be a good indicator of increased risk to public health. People swimming or playing in the water can be exposed to pathogens when water is accidentally swallowed, or via exposure through the skin through cuts, abrasions, or mucous membranes. In addition, commercial shellfish harvest is prohibited in locations where fecal coliform contamination could occur, because people can become ill from eating contaminated shellfish.
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