Local Environmental Pollution Strongly Influences Culturable Bacterial Aerosols at an Urban Aquatic Superfund Site

In polluted environments, when microbial aerosols originate locally, species composition of the aerosols should reflect the polluted source. To test the connection between local environmental pollution and microbial aerosols near an urban waterfront, we characterized bacterial aerosols at Newtown Creek (NTC), a public waterway and Superfund site in a densely populated area of New York, NY, USA. Culturable bacterial aerosol fallout rate and surface water bacterial concentrations were at least an order of magnitude greater at NTC than at a neighboring, less polluted waterfront and a nonurban coastal site in Maine. The NTC culturable bacterial aerosol community was significantly different in taxonomic structure from previous urban and coastal aerosol studies, particularly in relative abundances of Actinobacteria and Proteobacteria. Twenty-four percent of the operational taxonomic units in the NTC overall (air + water) bacterial isolate library were most similar to bacterial 16S rRNA gene sequences previously described in terrestrial or aquatic environments contaminated with sewage, hydrocarbons, heavy metals, and other industrial waste. This study is the first to examine the community composition and local deposition of bacterial aerosols from an aquatic Superfund site. The findings have important implications for the use of aeration remediation in polluted aquatic environments and suggest a novel pathway of microbial exposure in densely populated urban communities containing contaminated soil and water.