10 Common Places to Spot Bacteria in Water Infrastructure


James Peterson

By James Peterson

Product Manager

Municipalities and utilities use aggressive strategies to help purify our drinking water, yet microorganisms are constantly reproducing beyond the treatment plant. While this illustrates the myriad places where water hygiene risks can occur in businesses and homes, it also highlights the many places where UVC disinfection can be used for helping to destroy- and stop the spread of- bacteria in water. In this post, you’ll learn where bacteria can come from, how they reproduce in water, and where they’re most likely to come into contact with consumers.

  • 1. From the Water Treatment Plant Technically speaking, disinfection methods at water treatment plants are not sterile, which means that single microbes can make their way from the treatment plant directly into the drinking water stream. Far too often, this is the story of “the one that got away” (and got in to our drinking water supply).
  • 2. Leaks in Pipes It’s not uncommon for small leaks to be present in our progressively aging, underground water infrastructure. The problem with these leaks is that they let pathogens from soil or waste enter the water that we consume.
  • 3. Bacteria Colonies Growing on the Pipes As microorganisms enter the water system, they attach to pipe walls throughout the system and begin forming a biofilm. This biofilm protects microorganisms and allows them to reproduce inside of our water infrastructure.
  • 4. Dead Ends in the Infrastructure Capped-off sections of pipes in our water infrastructure are referred to as “dead ends.” Since there is no flow through dead ends, the water stagnates and becomes a safe harbor for biofilm formation.
  • 5. Newly Formed Colonies in the Pipes of a House or Building As water enters buildings and homes, microorganisms that have broken away from biofilm spread and establish new growth inside of our plumbing in the same way they were able to grow in the larger, municipal infrastructure.
  • 6. Water Heaters Water heaters typically maintain water temperatures high enough to limit continued bacterial growth, but maintenance issues that lead to scaling or insufficient heating can result in tank fouling and temperature reductions. Unfortunately, these are the perfect conditions for microorganisms to flourish.
  • 7. Beverage Equipment and Water-Dispensing Appliances For many food and beverage service operations, beverage equipment (e.g. coffee machines, soda dispensers, etc.) help provide a steady stream of revenue to the business. As a result, it’s critical to have precautionary measures and preventative maintenance in-place to limit equipment down-time. Scale filters and frequent cleaning can act as a band-aid solution, but microorganisms and biofilm growth stemming from source water or dispensing points circumvent these efforts by passing through filters and growing almost anywhere water is present. Not only does this potentially damage equipment, this contamination can also lead to illnesses for customers and employees alike.
  • 8. Sinks and Taps Sinks and taps are one of our most common touchpoints with consumable water- providing water that we use for everything from cleaning to drinking. While some taps primarily used for cleaning, watering, or rinsing don’t necessarily demand any protection against microorganisms, if the water from sinks and taps is used for drinking or preparing food or beverages, then it’s important to understand where contaminants from municipal water may pose a risk.
  • 9. Shows and Bathtub Faucets Water that is used for bathing is mainly critiqued for comfort rather than for drinking water safety. Nevertheless, it can still pose substantial risks when bacteria are present. Showers are one of the most common fixtures in buildings that can cause water to aerosolize, making microorganisms in water (e.g. legionella) a potential airborne risk.
  • 10. Water Coolers and Water Lines Water coolers- using bottled water or connected to a water line- are notorious hotspots for biofilm growth. Biofilm and mold growth- whether it’s from the municipal water source or from environmental exposure that occurs when consumers replace water cooler jugs- can form rapidly in internal components of the water cooler or water line. Although sanitation procedures are used as a minimum precaution for preventing biofilm and mold growth, providing complete water hygiene from these dispensers should incorporate an on-demand disinfection method (e.g. a UVC LED-based water disinfection system) to ensure that the dispensed water meets consumers’ hygiene expectations. While it’s true that microorganisms can be anywhere in our water, it’s not an immediate need to consider expensive whole house point-of-entry disinfection systems. Water serves a purpose at each point in a building and can be protected in an ad hoc manner at each point with desirable point-of-use water disinfection solutions. For more information about choosing the right solution for microbial protection at your flow rate and usage needs, check out our guide on UVC LEDs vs. UV lamps.

1. From the Water Treatment Plant

Technically speaking, disinfection methods at water treatment plants are not sterile, which means that single microbes can make their way from the treatment plant directly into the drinking water stream. Far too often, this is the story of “the one that got away” (and got in to our drinking water supply).

2. Leaks in Pipes

It’s not uncommon for small leaks to be present in our progressively aging, underground water infrastructure. The problem with these leaks is that they let pathogens from soil or waste enter the water that we consume.

3. Bacteria Colonies Growing on the Pipes

As microorganisms enter the water system, they attach to pipe walls throughout the system and begin forming a biofilm. This biofilm protects microorganisms and allows them to reproduce inside of our water infrastructure.

4. Dead Ends in the Infrastructure

Capped-off sections of pipes in our water infrastructure are referred to as “dead ends.” Since there is no flow through dead ends, the water stagnates and becomes a safe harbor for biofilm formation.

5. Newly Formed Colonies in the Pipes of a House or Building

As water enters buildings and homes, microorganisms that have broken away from biofilm spread and establish new growth inside of our plumbing in the same way they were able to grow in the larger, municipal infrastructure.

6. Water Heaters

Water heaters typically maintain water temperatures high enough to limit continued bacterial growth, but maintenance issues that lead to scaling or insufficient heating can result in tank fouling and temperature reductions. Unfortunately, these are the perfect conditions for microorganisms to flourish.

7. Beverage Equipment and Water-Dispensing Appliances

For many food and beverage service operations, beverage equipment (e.g. coffee machines, soda dispensers, etc.) help provide a steady stream of revenue to the business. As a result, it’s critical to have precautionary measures and preventative maintenance in-place to limit equipment down-time. Scale filters and frequent cleaning can act as a band-aid solution, but microorganisms and biofilm growth stemming from source water or dispensing points circumvent these efforts by passing through filters and growing almost anywhere water is present. Not only does this potentially damage equipment, this contamination can also lead to illnesses for customers and employees alike.

8. Sinks and Taps

Sinks and taps are one of our most common touchpoints with consumable water- providing water that we use for everything from cleaning to drinking. While some taps primarily used for cleaning, watering, or rinsing don’t necessarily demand any protection against microorganisms, if the water from sinks and taps is used for drinking or preparing food or beverages, then it’s important to understand where contaminants from municipal water may pose a risk.

9. Showers and Bathtub Faucets

Water that is used for bathing is mainly critiqued for comfort rather than for drinking water safety. Nevertheless, it can still pose substantial risks when bacteria are present. Showers are one of the most common fixtures in buildings that can cause water to aerosolize, making microorganisms in water (e.g. legionella) a potential airborne risk.

10. Water Coolers and Water Lines

Water coolers- using bottled water or connected to a water line- are notorious hotspots for biofilm growth. Biofilm and mold growth- whether it’s from the municipal water source or from environmental exposure that occurs when consumers replace water cooler jugs- can form rapidly in internal components of the water cooler or water line. Although sanitation procedures are used as a minimum precaution for preventing biofilm and mold growth, providing complete water hygiene from these dispensers should incorporate an on-demand disinfection method (e.g. a UVC LED-based water disinfection system) to ensure that the dispensed water meets consumers’ hygiene expectations.

While it’s true that microorganisms can be anywhere in our water, it’s not an immediate need to consider expensive whole house point-of-entry disinfection systems. Water serves a purpose at each point in a building and can be protected in an ad hoc manner at each point with desirable point-of-use water disinfection solutions. For more information about choosing the right solution for microbial protection at your flow rate and usage needs, check out our guide on UVC LEDs vs. UV lamps.


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