For most of us, there is nothing easier than turning on our tap whenever you need a glass of water. Also, most of us use tap water in many different ways when we are cooking in our kitchen. These daily acts come with a word of caution for certain locations: now new research shows that a simple glass of room-temperature or warm tap water has the potential to harbour the harmful legionella bacteria.
Many of us ask ourselves, what is actually hiding in our pipes, and how can we protect ourselves and our kitchens for safe cooking and water drinking?
Legionnaires’ Disease, in the water supply
Legionnaires’ disease is a very dangerous form of pneumonia that is caused by the legionella bacteria. Throughout history, most of the cases of Legionnaires’ were actually spread by the patient who inhaled the bacteria, but now new cases have been cropping up that indicate the warm water from our kitchen or bathroom tap could also be the source of infection.
The disease can fortunately be treated with prompt implementation of antibiotics, and is often only fatal to people who have underlying serious health issues.
The first-ever reported case of a patient becoming infected with the legionella bacteria through the water supply was actually in Philadelphia in 1976,. When this happened, more than 221 individuals were infected, including more than a hundred hospitalisations and even 34 deaths. At that time, officials feared that something more deadly and contagious, such as swine flu, was behind it, however that was later disproven.
After several months of research, they were no closer to figuring out the answer and they believed they would never know what had actually caused the outbreak.
Recent studies from the journal of Applied and Environmental Microbiology could be able to explain this early outbreak. Dutch scientists have determined that the best growth conditions for legionella bacteria is in water sources, such as drinking water towers or water pipes, and have eventually concluded that drinking water that comes from a natural source, and which could have a higher density of dissolved organic matter, is in fact ideal for the growth of this bacteria.
The organic materials that are dissolved into the water create a biofilm that provides the perfect growth environment. There are also other conditions that promote legionella growth:
• Warm and hot temperatures, between 68 to 122 degrees Fahrenheit
• pH falling between 5.0 – 8.5
• Stagnant water (like the one in water towers or water storage areas)
It’s vital for local water control officials and authorities to monitor the amount and concentration of legionella bacteria in their water towers and sources, since once a bacterial colony has begun to grow, they can’t be eradicated by the chlorination usually used to purify public water sources.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration estimates that there are somewhere between 10,000 to 50,000 cases of Legionnaires’ disease in the United States every year. But most of these cases are actually isolated and aren’t associated with mass outbreaks of the disease.
How can we protect our tap water against Legionella bacteria
This must not discourage you from using tap water in your home for cooking, drinking, or even bathing. However, preparation and prevention are key to guaranteeing your home’s water supply is totally safe to drink.
- Avoid at all times stagnant water: In fact, stagnant water provides the ideal breeding ground for the legionella bacteria. If you are away you’re your home for a while, ensure you turn on your water taps throughout your entire place and let them run for some time so the stale water is completely replaced with fresh.
- You should consider water testing: The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has guidelines and instructions for taking water samples, and you may even reach out to local officials to find out who in your region or city is responsible for water testing.
- Monitor any outdoor water supplies and sources: Outdoor fountains and ornamental water features, or even hot tubs and pools may all be potential growth sources for the legionella bacteria. Taking all necessary steps to reduce Legionella growth risk factors will enable you to enjoy the water features without the risk of growth of the bacteria in the yard or around your house.
- Keep yourself informed: The Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization are both good resources for information about potential legionella outbreaks in your region. Keep the risk factors in mind, anytime you are dealing with a source of fresh water in your region.
Legionnaires’ disease is actually not as threatening as it used to be back in 1976, when doctors had no clue about what it was, but it still presents a certain degree of danger. Keep yourself informed and ensure you take the necessary precautions to avoid being exposed to this bacteria, and you can even go the extra mile and receive proper Legionella management training to guarantee your safety. If you act this way, you will enjoy your tap water without worrying too much about what could be in it.