Laboratory microcosm experiments were performed to determine whether chlorine-exposed Escherichia coli are capable of recovery (i.e., increase in numbers of culturable cells) in estuarine waters and if so what water-quality parameters are responsible for this recovery. Suspensions of E. coli were exposed to 0.5 mg L(-1) of chlorine for 5 min followed by dechlorination with sodium thiosulfate. The chlorine-exposed bacteria were introduced into 2-L microcosms containing estuarine water collected from the Seacoast region of New Hampshire. Culturable cells in the microcosms were enumerated at 0, 10, 24, 48, and 74 h. In all estuarine microcosms the number of culturable cells increased by factors ranging from 2.8 to 50 over the 74-h incubation period. Multiple linear regression analyses indicated that ammonium and salinity were most significantly correlated with the recovery of E. coli over the 74-h incubation period; however, ammonium concentrations were strongly correlated with dissolved organic carbon and total dissolved nitrogen, making it impossible to determine with any degree of certainty the unique effect nitrogen or carbon had on recovery. The extensive recovery observed in our study indicates that following exposure to concentrations of chlorine that cause cell injury rather than death, numbers of culturable E. coli may increase significantly when discharged into estuarine waters. Thus, depending on the effectiveness of the chlorination process, the regular monitoring of chlorinated wastewater treatment effluent may underestimate the true impact on water-quality and public health risks.