The objectives of this study are to generate knowledge about methods to track the sources of faecal pollution in surface waters, with the aim of having one or a few easy procedures applicable to different geographic areas in Europe. For this, a first field study using already proposed methods (genotypes of F-specific RNA bacteriophages, bacteriophages infecting Bacteroides fragilis, phenotypes of faecal coliforms and enterococci, and sterols) has been done in five areas representing a wide array of conditions in Europe. The present faecal indicators (faecal coliforms, enterococci, sulfite reducing clostridia and somatic coliphages) have also been included in this first field study. At the same time some emerging methods have been settled or adapted to water samples and assayed in a limited number of samples. The results of this first field study indicate that no single parameter alone is able to discriminate the sources, human or non-human, of faecal pollution, but that a 'basket' of 4 or 5 parameters, which includes one of the present faecal indicators, will do so. In addition, numerical analysis of the data shows that this 'basket' will allow the successful building of predictive models. Both the statistical analyses and the studied predictive models indicate that genotype II of F-specific RNA bacteriophages, the coprostanol and the ratio coprostanol: coprostanol+epicoprostanol are, out of the studied parameters, those with a greater discriminating power. Either because unsuccessful adaptation of the methods to water samples or because the preliminary assays in water samples indicated low discriminating capability, only three (sorbitol-fermenting bifidobacteria, some species of bifidobacteria detected by PCR with specific primers and phages infecting Bacteroides tethaiotaomicron) of the newly assayed methods have been considered for a second field study, which is currently underway. Expectations are that these new tools will minimize the number of parameters in the 'basket', or at least minimize the difficulty in assaying them
2004. Vol. 2, no 4, 249-260 p.