Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Microbial contamination and chemical toxicity of the Rio Grande

Jose Mendoza1, James Botsford2, Jose Hernandez1, Anna Montoya1, Roswitha Saenz1, Adrian Valles1, Alejandro Vazquez1 and Maria Alvarez1*

Author Affiliations

1 Biology Department, El Paso Community College, P.O. Box 20500, El Paso, TX 79998, USA

2 Biology Department, New Mexico State University, MSC 3AF, Las Cruces, NM, 88003, USA

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BMC Microbiology 2004, 4:17  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-4-17

Published: 22 April 2004



The Rio Grande River is the natural boundary between U.S. and Mexico from El Paso, TX to Brownsville, TX. and is one of the major water resources of the area. Agriculture, farming, maquiladora industry, domestic activities, as well as differences in disposal regulations and enforcement increase the contamination potential of water supplies along the border region. Therefore, continuous and accurate assessment of the quality of water supplies is of paramount importance. The objectives of this study were to monitor water quality of the Rio Grande and to determine if any correlations exist between fecal coliforms, E. coli, chemical toxicity as determined by Botsford's assay, H. pylori presence, and environmental parameters. Seven sites along a 112-Km segment of the Rio Grande from Sunland Park, NM to Fort Hancock, TX were sampled on a monthly basis between January 2000 and December 2002.


The results showed great variability in the number of fecal coliforms, and E. coli on a month-to-month basis. Fecal coliforms ranged between 0–106 CFU/100 ml while E. coli ranged between 6 to > 2419 MPN. H. pylori showed positive detection for all the sites at different times. Toxicity ranged between 0 to 94% of inhibition capacity (IC). Since values above 50% are considered to be toxic, most of the sites displayed significant chemical toxicity at different times of the year. No significant correlations were observed between microbial indicators and chemical toxicity.


The results of the present study indicate that the 112-Km segment of the Rio Grande river from Sunland Park, NM to Fort Hancock, TX exceeds the standards for contact recreation water on a continuous basis. In addition, the presence of chemical toxicity in most sites along the 112-Km segment indicates that water quality is an area of concern for the bi-national region. The presence of H. pylori adds to the potential health hazards of the Rio Grande. Since no significant correlation was observed between the presence of H. pylori antigens and the two indicators of fecal contamination, we can conclude that fecal indicators cannot be used to detect the presence of H. pylori reliably in surface water.