North American drinking water utilities are currently re-evaluating their disinfection strategies for controlling microbiological growth in distribution systems. Most water systems in North America use free chlorine as a secondary disinfectant. Since chlorine is known to form potentially carcinogenic byproducts in drinking water, utilities are looking for an alternative to maintain a disinfectant residual in the distribution system. The objective of this study was to evaluate the response of model drinking water distribution systems to a change in disinfectant from either free chlorine or chloramines to chlorine dioxide, in terms of its impact on microbiological water quality (bulk water and biofilm). Switching from a chlorine residual of 0.5 mg/L to a chlorine dioxide residual of 0.25 mg/L did not impact (negatively or positively) microbial water quality as quantified by heterotrophic and total cell counts (sample size = 8 data points). Thus, on the basis of the mass of disinfectant applied, chlorine dioxide was more efficient than free chlorine at controlling microbiological growth in the model distribution system. Similarly, chlorine dioxide was more efficient than chloramines, as a chlorine dioxide residual of 0.25 mg/L inactivated 0.75–1 log more suspended organisms than 1.0 mg/L residual of chloramines. Therefore, under the tested conditions, chlorine showed similar or better disinfection efficiency than free chlorine and chloramines, respectively.

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