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Can J Microbiol. 1999 Aug;45(8):709-15.

Poor efficacy of residual chlorine disinfectant in drinking water to inactivate waterborne pathogens in distribution systems.

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Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS)-Institut Armand-Frappier, Université du Québec, Laval, Canada.


To evaluate the inactivating power of residual chlorine in a distribution system, test microorganisms (Escherichia coli, Clostridium perfringens, bacteriophage phi-X 170, and poliovirus type 1) were added to drinking water samples obtained from two water treatment plants and their distribution system. Except for Escherichia coli, microorganisms remained relatively unaffected in water from the distribution systems tested. When sewage was added to the water samples, indigenous thermotolerant coliforms were inactivated only when water was obtained from sites very close to the treatment plant and containing a high residual chlorine concentration. Clostridium perfringens was barely inactivated, suggesting that the most resistant pathogens such as Giardia lamblia, Cryptosporidium parvum, and human enteric viruses would not be inactivated. Our results suggest that the maintenance of a free residual concentration in a distribution system does not provide a significant inactivation of pathogens, could even mask events of contamination of the distribution, and thus would provide only a false sense of safety with little active protection of public health. Recent epidemiological studies that have suggested a significant waterborne level of endemic gastrointestinal illness could then be explained by undetected intrusions in the distribution system, intrusions resulting in the infection of a small number of individuals without eliciting an outbreak situation.

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