Escherichia coli is generally described as a commensal species with occasional pathogenic strains. Due to technological limitations, there is currently little information concerning the prevalence of pathogenic E. coli strains in the environment. For the first time, using a DNA microarray capable of detecting all currently described virulence genes and commonly found antimicrobial resistance genes, a survey of environmental E. coli isolates from recreational waters was carried out. A high proportion (29%) of 308 isolates from a beach site in the Great Lakes carried a pathotype set of virulence-related genes, and 14% carried antimicrobial resistance genes, findings consistent with a potential risk for public health. The results also showed that another 8% of the isolates had unusual virulence gene combinations that would be missed by conventional screening. This new application of a DNA microarray to environmental waters will likely have an important impact on public health, epidemiology, and microbial ecology in the future.