Complexities associated with drinking water plumbing systems can result in undesirable interactions among plumbing components, undermining engineering controls for opportunistic pathogens (OPs). A study examines the effects of plumbing system materials and two commonly applied disinfectants, copper and chloramines, on water chemistry and the growth of Legionella and mycobacteria across a transect of bench- and pilot-scale hot water experiments carried out with the same municipal water supply. Researchers discovered that copper released from corrosion of plumbing materials can initiate evolution of >1,100 times more hydrogen (H2) from water heater sacrificial anode rods than does presence of copper dosed as soluble cupric ions. H2 is a favorable electron donor for autotrophs and causes fixation of organic carbon that could serve as a nutrient for OPs. Dosed cupric ions acted as a disinfectant in stratified stagnant pipes, inhibiting culturable Legionella and biofilm formation, but promoted Legionella growth in pipes subject to convective mixing. This difference was presumably due to continuous delivery of nutrients to biofilm on the pipes under convective mixing conditions. Chloramines eliminated culturable Legionella and prevented L. pneumophila from re-colonizing biofilms, but M. avium gene numbers increased by 0.14-0.75 logs in the bulk water and were unaffected in the biofilm. This study provides practical confirmation of past discrepancies in the literature regarding the variable effects of copper on Legionella growth, and confirms prior reports of trade-offs between Legionella and mycobacteria if chloramines are applied as secondary disinfectant residual.

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