Increased Frequency of Nontuberculous Mycobacteria Detection at Potable Water Taps within the United States

Environ Sci Technol. 2015 May 19;49(10):6127-33. doi: 10.1021/acs.est.5b00496.


Nontuberculous mycobacteria (NTMs) are environmental microorganisms that can cause infections in humans, primarily in the lung and soft tissue. The prevalence of NTM-associated diseases is increasing in the United States. Exposure to NTMs occurs primarily through human interactions with water (especially aerosolized). Potable water from sites across the U.S. was collected to investigate the presence of NTM. Water from 68 taps was sampled 4 times over the course of 2 years. In total, 272 water samples were examined for NTM using a membrane filtration, culture method. Identification of NTM isolates was accomplished by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) amplification of the 16S rRNA and hsp65 genes. NTMs were detected in 78% of the water samples. The NTM species detected most frequently were: Mycobacterium mucogenicum (52%), Mycobacterium avium (30%), and Mycobacterium gordonae (25%). Of the taps that were repeatedly positive for NTMs, the species M. avium, M. mucogenicum, and Mycobacterium abscessus were found to persist most frequently. This study also observed statistically significant higher levels of NTM in chloraminated water than in chlorinated water.

MeSH terms

  • Drinking Water / microbiology*
  • Humans
  • Mycobacterium Infections, Nontuberculous / epidemiology*
  • Mycobacterium Infections, Nontuberculous / microbiology
  • Mycobacterium Infections, Nontuberculous / transmission
  • Nontuberculous Mycobacteria / genetics
  • Nontuberculous Mycobacteria / isolation & purification*
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Prevalence
  • United States / epidemiology


  • Drinking Water