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Appl Environ Microbiol. 1987 Dec;53(12):2714-24.

Examination and characterization of distribution system biofilms.

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Belleville Laboratory, American Water Works Service Company, Inc., Belleville, Illinois 62220.


Investigations concerning the role of distribution system biofilms on water quality were conducted at a drinking water utility in New Jersey. The utility experienced long-term bacteriological problems in the distribution system, while treatment plant effluents were uniformly negative for coliform bacteria. Results of a monitoring program showed increased coliform levels as the water moved from the treatment plant through the distribution system. Increased coliform densities could not be accounted for by growth of the cells in the water column alone. Identification of coliform bacteria showed that species diversity increased as water flowed through the study area. All materials in the distribution system had high densities of heterotrophic plate count bacteria, while high levels of coliforms were detected only in iron tubercles. Coliform bacteria with the same biochemical profile were found both in distribution system biofilms and in the water column. Assimilable organic carbon determinations showed that carbon levels declined as water flowed through the study area. Maintenance of a 1.0-mg/liter free chlorine residual was insufficient to control coliform occurrences. Flushing and pigging the study area was not an effective control for coliform occurrences in that section. Because coliform bacteria growing in distribution system biofilms may mask the presence of indicator organisms resulting from a true breakdown of treatment barriers, the report recommends that efforts continue to find methods to control growth of coliform bacteria in pipeline biofilms.

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