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The Danger Bio-films in Drinking Water

NoBSWater-Tap-Water-Glass-200x200Bio-films and Their Dangers
What’s Growing in Your Drinking Water?

I am often asked about bio-films and their dangers… Heterotrophic plate count & Bio-films appear to be greatly reduced when enough electricity is applied, with long term monitoring of several dated samples it seems there’s little to no bio-filming present after a contaminated water sample has been ionized.

The benefit of not ingesting water with Heterotrophic plate counts & bio-filming may be a significant benefit of  drinking water processed by a high-end water ionizer with sufficient electricity to effectively reduce plate counts, this has not been acknowledged, studied and completely understood… I think this reduction is a very important to human health.  I think there are many unanswered questions.   Heterotrophic plate counts are not discussed nearly enough within the water industry as a whole.

Private water wells are also an issue… I have disinfected and monitored hundreds of them over the last past two decades, most wells are terribly neglected.   An infestation could be prevented in most water wells with an ongoing yearly well disinfection and maintenance program.

Once a Heterotrophic plate count & Bio-filming is established in a water well, it may not be easy to clean up, even with an aggessive disinfection program.

Brita filters, activated carbon (charcoal as often called) and the many other filters that people use for either point-of-use or point-of-entry may easily become the perfect breeding ground for a Heterotrophic plate counts & bio-filming. All to often while visiting a  home I will spot a Brita sitting on the counter…. what’s worse, people use them on raw water! Real bad news in my opinion… NOT intended for water that is not disinfected.   In fact a point-of-use filter will generally exacerbate a microbial growth.

In 1994, a mysterious bacterial infection struck hundreds of asthmatics throughout the United States with over 100 people dying from the infection. The reason was finally discovered: they had all used the same albuterol inhalant. Although the manufacturer’s albuterol tank had been properly disinfected, they found a particular species of bacteria, “Pseudomonas aeruginosa” freely floating in it.

Pseudomonas aeruginosa is notorious for forming bio-films – clumps of sticky slime which house and protect bacteria – that resist chemical disinfectants as well as the immune system and antibiotics.

Very Resistant to Disinfection! I have worked with disinfection of Heterotrophic plate counts for many years in groundwater and surface water… it’s fascinating work. I can go into a water well with 300-500 PPM residual chlorine for 24- hours with a recirculation line running constantly and 10 days later my lab reports indicate an explosive growth, Heterotrophic CFU in the thousand or more.   At first I found this to be rather mind boggling… but now after a well assessment often expected.  There are a number of  reasons why a high plate count may be present in a well.

In comparison tap water chlorine residuals are only typically around 1.5 – 3 PPM, HPC can be in all kinds of water and in fact likely present in most water including bottled water. At normal levels a Heterotrophic Plate would not be deemed a health concern but I mostly see levels that are far from normal.

Please do not think that municipal wells or community wells are exempt… they absolutely are not. Often not discussed as a matter of concern but more of an indicator, many smaller systems already struggle, barely meeting minimum guidelines. The real large high-end systems will have many more bells and whistles built in but still plate counts can have a very high survival rate.

The deadly outbreak of 1994 spawned over 50 court claims. The plaintiffs called in William Costerton, director of the Center for Biofilm Engineering at Montana State University in Bozeman and one of the few experts on bio-films. Mr. Costerton testified that asthmatics breathing in pieces of bio-films from the contaminated inhalant would easily become infected with Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which commonly causes pneumonia. For anyone unfortunate enough to breathe in a bio-film, the bio-film bacteria would have almost 100% chance of survival in the lungs.

What are Bio-films?

Algae-Water-CoolerBio-films are sticky slime that surrounds large clumps of bacteria. Any bacteria can secrete bio-films to protect itself. Different types of bacteria can bind together inside the sticky bio-films.

Have you ever noticed the slime that grows on rocks in a creek, your toilet bowl, a bottled water cooler or water containers?  Water lines in refrigerators or even the lines that deliver water to the tools that are rinsing your mouth during and after a dental procedure… yes, it’s true and many more dentists are aware of the issue.

What do you think is growing in a water cooler along with possible algae?  Here is a picture of a bottled water cooler that I pulled apart myself.  The entire cooler was infested with a heavy odor producing bright green algae.  Most people do not clean their bottled water coolers!

Why Do Bacteria Make Bio-films?

Bio-films protect the possible pathogenic bacteria, making them hard to destroy. Hiding in Bio-films, bacteria can spread throughout the body large, sticky bio-films resist the attack of the immune system and antibiotics. Water wells, the system and lines are a perfect environment for Bio-filming.

The 1994 incident was not the first time bio-films had a spotlight in high profile cases. Costerton has testified in court about the presence of bio-films causing problems elsewhere, for example on intrauterine devices or more commonly known as “IUD’s”

99% of Bacteria Make Bio-films

These court cases highlight the widening gap in how researchers generally view the microbial world. Microbiologists have traditionally researched only free-floating, individual bacteria growing in laboratory cultures. But in the real world, 99% of all microbial activity is in an open ecosystem using bio-films. In the natural world and in your body, most bacteria aggregate within big clumps of bio-films in which they behave very differently than single, isolated bacteria. “Microbiologists have been barking up the wrong tree since the time of Pasteur” says Costerton.

Bio-films – They are Everywhere!

Bio-films were once considered odd curiosities, are now one of the hottest topics in microbiology. Bio-films occur everywhere: dental plaque is one of the most common bio films that decay teeth. Other bio-films can clog water pipes; others can contaminate almost any medical device inserted into the body, ranging from contact lenses to catheters and artificial hearts.

Anaerobic bacterial in bio-films can reduce sulfur to hydrogen sulfide and burn holes in pipes. Aerobic bacteria can corrode metal by oxidation, i see this often.” You should see the bio-filming I produce in acidic water in sealed glass jars… this is truly an aerobic environment… I always show this at all my presentations.” Each time it’s grown a little more.

Their Own Little World

The renegade bacteria in bio-films bind together in a sticky web of tangled polysaccharide fibers. The bio-films with their bacterial nests connect across cells with sticky strands and anchor them to other surfaces. Within this microcosm, both anaerobic and aerobic bacteria can thrive side by side, sharing water and nutrient passageways. Like a circulatory system, water flows in convective patterns through the channels that deliver nutrients and eliminate waste. Some microbes release hydrogen while others ingest it in order to reduce CO2 to methane. Still others dine on dead cells.

Within their little bio-film cities, the bacteria can thrive and multiply without harm. “When disinfecting a water well it’s similar to pulling a large scab of a sore, with the bacteria thriving under the scab that is protecting it… injure the scab – bio-film and the well / bacteria goes insane as it dislodges and becomes free-floating. The sticky polysaccharide coat of the bio-film is “like a coat of armor,” which allows different types of bacteria to “collaborate to make themselves more powerful.”

Bio-film Colony

By 1990, researchers confirmed that bio-film bacteria are morphologically and metabolically distinct from free-floating bacteria. So what we studied in school is NOT how bacteria really work.

Any bacterium can form a bio-film once it is able to find a surface to stick to. Slamming up against a hard surface sets off a genetic cascade in the bacteria that turns on specific genes to make sticky polysaccharides and other substances to establish the bio-film colony. Even bacteria that have been floating for a long time in a test tube will stick somewhere, if given a chance to.

White Cell Attack

Bio-films are huge blobs compared to small white cells. White blood cells typically are about 15 micrometers in diameter. They can track down and engulf free-floating bacteria of one micrometer or so, but the white cells choke on bio-films that can reach up to 100 micrometers in diameter.

Some bacteria are better than others in forming bio-films. When bio-films aggregate are large enough, they can congest organs, glands, air and blood passageways.

The bio-films protect the bacteria from antibiotics. “The resistance of these bio-films to antibiotics is phenomenal”, according to Costerton. Although researchers are not yet sure why, preliminary evidence suggests that different bacteria within a bio-film can trade genes – possibly including genes for antibiotic resistance. But antibiotics are becoming outdated as fast as companies can make them since more and more microbes are becoming antibiotic resistant daily a new, more effective and non-toxic approach is needed.

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