Drinking water distribution system biofilms were investigated for the presence of hygienically relevant microorganisms. Early biofilm formation was evaluated in biofilm reactors on stainless steel, copper, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and polyethylene coupons exposed to unchlorinated drinking water. After 12 to 18 months, a plateau phase of biofilm development was reached. Surface colonization on the materials ranged between 4 × 106 and 3 × 107 cells/cm2, with heterotrophic plate count (HPC) bacteria between 9 × 103 and 7 × 105 colony-forming units (cfu)/cm2. Established biofilms were investigated in 18 pipe sections (2 to 99 years old) cut out from distribution pipelines. Materials included cast iron, galvanized steel, cement and PVC. Colonization ranged from 4 × 105 to 2 × 108 cells/cm2, HPC levels varied between 101 and 2 × 105 cfu/cm2. No correlation was found between extent of colonization and age of the pipes. Using cultural detection methods, coliform bacteria were rarely found, while Escherichia coli, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Legionella spp. were not detected in the biofilms. In regular operation, distribution system biofilms do not seem to be common habitats for pathogens. However, nutrient-leaching materials like rubber-coated valves were observed with massive biofilms which harboured coliform bacteria contaminating drinking water.

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