The water industry can be made more sustainable by a better understanding of biofilms

A lower disinfectant residual in the drinking water system helps develop beneficial biofilm and, at the same time, protect drinking water from free-living microorganisms. 

Biofilms are communities of one or more types of microorganisms that can grow on many surfaces. Bacteria, fungi, and protists are some of the microorganisms that form Biofilms.

Biofilms also form inside the walls of drinking water supply pipes in almost all water systems worldwide and cannot be eliminated permanently. They have an impact on water quality. Drinking water is not sterile; it is the minerals and the bacteria on the biofilms that impart the specific taste that we expect in our drinking water. 

Countries use various disinfectant residuals to protect the re-entry and regrowth of free-living microorganisms in water systems. But until now, it was not known how these disinfectants affect the biofilms and, in turn, the effect on drinking water supplies. 

Read Also: Droughts can cause irreversible damage to wetlands, a study finds

In a new study, led by Professor Joby Boxall and Dr. Katherine Fish from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Civil and Structural Engineering, the researchers found that reducing the amount of disinfectant residuals can improve the water quality significantly. At the same time, it makes our drinking water system more sustainable. 

Researchers found that using lower chlorine residual in water supports the growth of biofilms that have less impact on water quality than those grown under a higher chlorine residual. Contrary to the common perceptions, lower chlorine residual still protects from free-living microorganisms. 

“In the UK, we have some of the best drinking water quality in the world, but we also have an aging drinking water distribution system that is having new pressures put on it with increasing population, urbanization, and the climate crisis. Sustainably managing our drinking water system is critical for all of us, consumers, and suppliers,” said Dr. Katherine Fish, a Post-Doctoral Research Associate at the University of Sheffield

According to Professor Joby Boxall, Professor of Water Infrastructure Engineering at the University of Sheffield, “Understanding the physical, chemical and biological processes, and the role of biofilms in particular, within our vast aging pipe networks is vital to protect water quality.”

This study titled, “Uncharted waters: the unintended impacts of residual chlorine on water quality and biofilms,” is published in the journal npj Biofilms and Microbiomes.

Water supplies worldwide can be made more sustainable by using less energy and chemicals and help the industry tackle pollution and climate change.  

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