BACTERIA IN WATER SYSTEMS AND THE PROBLEMS THEY CAUSE
Bacteria are small single-celled organisms. Bacteria are found almost everywhere on Earth and are vital to the planet’s ecosystems. Some species can live under extreme conditions of temperature and pressure. The human body is full of bacteria, and is estimated to contain more bacterial cells than human cells.
Many people will already know these basic facts, but what might be less obvious are the many adverse effects bacteria can have on your water systems.
HEALTH AND HYGIENE
The main concern with bacteria is usually the potential health risk. Most bacteria are harmless, but some can cause diseases – these are called pathogens. The risk of Legionnaire’s Disease is well documented – there is excellent guidance available from the HSE.
Less well known is microbiologically influenced corrosion (MIC). This is where bacteria on the inside surface of water systems corrode the metal, sometimes by producing acid.
Biofilm is a naturally occurring slime which forms inside water systems, sticking to the surfaces. It causes problems such as reduced flow rates and blockages in all types of systems. Biofilms can quickly grow from microscopic to a major issue.
HOW DO YOU PREVENT BACTERIAL PROBLEMS?
It’s almost impossible to keep water systems completely free from any bacteria, but the good news is that you don’t have to. You just need to keep the levels under control, and what level is ok for your system depends on how your system works, and what it is used for. What is an acceptable level of bacteria in a typical industrial process system would be a serious problem in a system used for medical purposes.
There are many methods used for disinfecting water systems and controlling the bacterial levels.
Water services are often disinfected thermally (using heat) or chemically.
Industrial systems usually rely on adding chemicals called biocides to the water system. They are normally dosed automatically.
Technologies such as UV (Ultra-Violet light) and Ozone are also used.
MEASURING BACTERIAL LEVELS
Once you’ve established what level of bacteria is ok / not ok in your system, you need to test the water to make sure you are keeping the bacteria under control. The most common ways of doing this are:
Dipslides – low cost, easy to use and accurate enough for most basic applications.
Laboratory tests – there are many laboratories set up to test for the most common bacteria such as: https://www.adey.com/lab
You need to take the sample properly using the correct bottle, and transport it to the lab within a specified time. It’s a cost-effective solution and very accurate.
IN SUMMARY, OUR SUGGESTIONS ARE
- Find out whether you have (or soon will have) bacterial problems by inspecting the system and testing the water.
- Understand what level of bacteria will cause problems in your system, and what levels are ok.
- Put a control system in place – and keep testing to make sure you are getting the results you want.
- Congratulate yourself and enjoy the peace of mind!
BUT…WHAT IF YOU ALREADY HAVE A BACTERIAL PROBLEM?
If you high levels of bacteria and biofilm in your system right now – what can you do?
Firstly – DON’T PANIC, the right water treatment programme can get your system back in good health. Take it step by step:
- Take a methodical approach to make sure you fully understand the causes of the problem. You may need to spend some time on testing before you start taking action.
- Get the system under control with a planned approach and keep testing to make sure you are heading in the right direction.
- Be prepared to invest some time and money to rectify the situation – keep in mind how much the bacterial problem is costing you!