In this study the distribution of phenotypes of campylobacter strains in sewage and surface waters was investigated by subtyping and by speciation of isolates from various aquatic environments. These environments included two municipal sewage plants (SPA and SPB) and waste water from a poultry abattoir (WWA). Both the sewage plants SPA and SPB collected domestic and industrial waste, and SPA received drain water from WWA. SPB received no waste water from any meat-processing plant. The isolates were speciated by PCR and subtyped by PCR/RFLP based on the flagellin PCR products. From all three reservoirs, no Campylobacter lari was isolated, and approximately 80% of the isolates could be identified as C. jejuni and the rest belonged to the C. coli species. The PCR/RFLP typing technique has a high discrimination level and was reproducible between two separate laboratories. The 182 isolates tested yielded 22 distinct Dde I profiles. The results indicate that strains with profiles found in poultry are also detectable in waste water presumed to be solely from domestic and human sources. In addition some strains were unique to the known poultry-related sources, suggesting that avian-specific strains, non-pathogenic to man, may exist in the environment. In contrast some strains were unique to human waste indicating the potential importance of non-poultry sources of infection. No seasonality was observed in the profile distribution. So, at least in the Netherlands, it is unlikely that infections caused by contaminated surface waters contribute to the seasonality of human campylobacteriosis.