Understanding bacteria in water

Why should you understand the bacteria in your water?

Have you ever been concerned about your supply of clean drinking water being unavailable? Disinfection, using chlorine, was first used in 1854 after a cholera epidemic, a bacterial illness, spread through south London via the water supply. At this time, it was determined that the addition of disinfectants is essential to limiting waterborne illness. In addition, the disinfectants added during water treatment can control the growth of microbes in drinking water distribution systems. However, the efficacy of disinfectants to control pathogens in drinking water is dependent on the microbial community diversity and relationships between different species of bacteria. Although disinfectants were first applied over 150 years ago, it was not until 1974, when the United States Congress passed the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), that it was required in the United States. SDWA sets standards for drinking water quality and oversees the municipalities who implement these standards overall to protect public health. Amendments to the SDWA aim to not only protect drinking water quality but also their sources, where the water comes from for the treatment process. Another major consequence of microbial growth in drinking water distribution systems, although not connected to public health, is corrosion of distribution system piping.

The majority of bacteria in drinking water distribution systems are in biofilms on pipe walls. A biofilm is a group of microorganisms in which the cells stick to one another on a surface. Biofilms make up the majority of the concentration of bacteria present because they possess certain advantages over singular cells, including increased resistance to disinfectants. Don’t let this information scare you though! Remember, most bacteria are not harmful to humans.

Understanding the microbial ecology of drinking water treatment and distribution systems could aid in the further understanding of how treatment, and in particular disinfection, works in the scheme of treating drinking water. Various factors may influence the species of bacteria present in drinking water (time, location, water temperature, etc.). This community research endeavor aims to examine some of these factors and create a map of the Pittsburgh Drinking Water system in regards to species of bacteria present per location.

Who knew about all of these interesting facts about bacteria in drinking water! Take the quiz on understanding bacteria in drinking water.

 

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